Newcastle v Exeter, Aviva Premiership, February 18
Chiefs eye Falcons double
ESPNscrum Staff
February 17, 2011
Exeter's Tom Johnson bursts past Jordan Turner-Hall to score, Aviva Premiership, Sandy Park, Exeter, England, February 12, 2011
Tom Johnson was on the scoresheet for Exeter against Harlequins © Getty Images

Exeter Chiefs are out to collect another scalp on Friday night when they travel to face struggling Newcastle at Kingston Park.

The Premiership's new boys have done a sterling job of upsetting the apple cart this season and will head into the game buoyant after last weekend's victory over an in-form Harlequins.

Newcastle are hovering just above bottom-placed Leeds with just three points separating the Premiership's bottom two. The Falcons will also be able to take little solace from the meeting between the sides at Sandy Park back in September, when a green Exeter side pulled through 22-17.

The ledger for the season is level between the sides however after they traded Amlin Challenge Cup victories and Newcastle won an Anglo-Welsh Cup tie back on February 6.

Newcastle - Player to Watch: Euan Murray has been released from the Scotland squad and takes his place in the front-row. The tight-head has endured a difficult couple of weeks at international level and will be keen to lay down a marker.

Newcastle - Team News: Kiwi fullback Jeremy Manning has been included among the replacements after suffering an arm injury against London Irish last weekend, with Alex Tait taking the No.15 jersey. Former Auckland lock Andrew van der Heijden starts alongside skipper James Hudson in the engine room.

Exeter - Player to Watch: Flanker Tom Johnson scored in last weekend's win over Quins and also crossed when the Chiefs knocked over Newcastle earlier in the season. The blindside has quickly adapted to life at the top table.

Exeter - Team News: Rob Baxter has named an unchanged starting XV for the game, with the only alteration coming on the bench where Ignacio Elosu is called in for the injured Hoani Tui. Gareth Steenson is retained at halfback alongside Haydn Thomas while James Scaysbrook continues in the No.7 jersey.

Key Battle: Steenson's boot was crucial when the sides met in September and again last weekend, while fly-half Jimmy Gopperth has been a rare bright spark for the Falcons. The duel between the two playmakers will go a long way to deciding this one.

Trivia: While their season has not gone to plan elsewhere, the Falcons have proved that they can look after the ball. So far this season they have conceded 139 turnovers, the second lowest figure in the Premiership behind Northampton.

Stats: Gopperth finished last season as the Premiership's top scorer but is off the pace this year. His 126 points puts him fourth on the list behind Wasps' Dave Walder, London Irish's Ryan Lamb and current leader Nick Evans, of Harlequins.

Quote Unquote:

"Jeremy's responding well to treatment and on the advice of the medical staff we are giving him as long as possible to recover." - Falcons boss Alan Tait explains the decision to include Manning on the bench.

"This week we're playing against a team which has different aspirations to Harlequins. Last week Harlequins came here talking about top four rugby, but now we are going to Newcastle who are at the other end of the table and fighting for survival. That's a tough old battle, but it is going to be an interesting one to see how we front up." - Exeter boss Rob Baxter outlines the task awaiting his side.

Fantasy: Johnson and Steenson have both proven to be good contributors this season in the ESPNscrum Fantasy Rugby Game, have you got them in your side?

Prediction: Newcastle are a tough proposition on their home track but Exeter's confidence should see them to a narrow win on the road.

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