Exeter v Newcastle, Aviva Premiership, September 18
Fearless Chiefs entertain Falcons
September 16, 2010
Exeter's Nic Sestaret takes the game to Gloucester, Exeter Chiefs v Gloucester, Aviva Premiership, Sandy Park, Exeter, September 4, 2010
Exeter have shown no aversion to tackling the elite head on © Getty Images

Exeter Chiefs return to their Sandy Park surroundings to face Newcastle Falcons with their underdogs' tag firmly slung aside after a roaring start to the season.

Any hopes the Chiefs had of flying under the radar during the opening months of the season have disappeared with two thrilling performances grounded in skill and strength as much as spirit. After victory over Gloucester at home, the Chiefs came agonisingly close to upstaging reigning Premiership champions Leicester at Welford Road last Saturday.

Meanwhile, the Falcons' opening fixtures suggested that they may once again be forced to rely heavily on picking up points at their North East stronghold this season. The Kingston Park factor helped propel Alan Tait's men to victory over London Wasps following their defeat to Sale, but the Falcons now face a long trip down to Devon to take on a team that have become the talk of the top flight.

Exeter - Player to Watch: Mark Foster has notched a try in each of Exeter's opening two games and the Falcons will be intent on nullifying the threat posed by the former Gloucester man.

Exeter - Team News: Exter have named the same starting line-up for the third game in a row but fit-again Samoan international Junior Poluleuligaga and summer signing Andrew Higgins have both been named amongst the replacements for the first time this season.

Newcastle - Player to Watch: Redford Pennycook bagged a try last weekend and has been generating plenty of press as one to watch on the openside flank.

Newcastle - Team News: In the only change in personnel to the side which defeated Wasps, Rob Vickerman takes the place of Andy Henderson in midfield. Luke Eves switches from outside to inside centre as a consequence.

Key Battle: Falcons fly-half Jimmy Gopperth booted his side to victory over Wasps last weekend but Exeter No.10 Gareth Steenson has shown nerves of steel in his Aviva Premiership career thus far. The outcome of this particular duel could well decide the game.

Trivia: This is the first of five scheduled clashes between the Premiership's furthest flung sides during 2010/11.They have met just once before in competitive rugby: in the 4th round of the Tetley's Bitter Cup at Kingston Park in January 1998, where the Falcons won 34-10.

Stats: Exeter fly-half Steenson is third in the total points scorers chart this season with 29.

Quote Unquote:

"In a lot of ways I think this is the biggest game of the three (so far). That emotional build up we had for the Gloucester and Leicester games was a big part of how well we did; now we have got to make sure we show that same emotion, attitude and work ethic in our second home game." - Exeter head coach Rob Baxter

"There is no hiding from the fact that Exeter would have targeted us in the pre-season, saying that this is a cup final and it's the same for us. We look at them as a mini cup final." - Newcastle head coach Alan Tait

Fantasy: Leicester's Geordan Murphy has picked up three assists from fullback along with two tries making him a great addition to your team - time to add him? ESPN Premiership Rugby Fantasy Game

Prediction: A fascinating game in prospect between two sides that most expected to struggle this season. It will most likely be tight and fiercely competitive and home advantage should just swing it in favour of the buoyant Chiefs.

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