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Match Reaction: Newcastle Falcons 22-22 Exeter Chiefs

Match Reaction: Newcastle Falcons 22-22 Exeter Chiefs

Zach Kibirige celebrated his birthday in style as he ran in a hat-trick for Newcastle Falcons in their 22-22 draw against Exeter Chiefs in the Premiership Rugby Cup.

The 24-year-old was in sparkling form at Kingston Park, giving the hosts a 12-7 lead at the break after crossing twice in response to Max Bodilly’s converted score on 19 minutes.

Brett Connon and Harvey Skinner traded penalties after the restart, before Kibirige completed his treble just before the hour mark to extend Falcons’ advantage to 22-10.

But just when Newcastle appeared to be on course for victory, James Short intervened to peg the home side back and Bodilly touched down his second to earn Exeter a share of the spoils.

The draw does neither side any favours after the first round of the Premiership Rugby Cup, with Harlequins leading the way in Pool 1 following their victory over Bristol Bears.

MAN OF THE MATCH

No contest here as Kibirige almost single-handedly won the game for Newcastle Falcons with his display before the home side let their lead slip in the final 20 minutes.

Along with Adam Radwan, he demonstrated that Falcons have plenty in reserve when it comes to wingers – stepping up to the plate in the absence of Vereniki Goneva and Sinoti Sinoti.

Kibirige showed his intent from the first whistle, breaking from his own 22 with just seven minutes on the clock, before racing in for his first try following great work from Radwan.

His second and third scores were just a classy, with his hat-trick try a brilliant kick and chase, and the only disappointment will come from Newcastle not holding on for the win.

TRY OF THE MATCH

Plenty of contenders from the six tries scored, but Kibirige once again takes the honours with his hat-trick try just before the hour mark to put Falcons 22-10 ahead.

It was started by a downfield clearance from Chiefs, with Tom Arscott threading through a grubber into space for Kibirige to collect – from there it was all about the birthday boy.

With his confidence high after already crossing twice, he chipped the last man and regathered his own kick to score a fabulous individual try in front of a jubilant Newcastle crowd.

MOMENT OF THE MATCH

Bodilly’s second try was a surreal moment as he ran almost the length of the field before touching down for Chiefs with just over ten minutes remaining.

While Short had given Exeter some hope with his try off the bench, Newcastle still appeared to be in control of proceedings as they threatened to score again down the right flank.

But Bodilly gathered possession inside his own half before sprinting down the left touchline, just about having enough energy in the bank to hold off Kibirige behind him.

It proved to be the decisive score, with Skinner converting to draw the sides level and stun the home fans into silence, as Exeter managed to come away with two points.

WHAT THEY SAID

Speaking after being awarded man of the match, Kibirige said: “I think those are the sort of games we’ve got to be putting away and I’d rather we had got the win.

“It’s a team performance and the other guys on the pitch were making things easy for me and Adam Radwan, we just get all the plaudits, but we want to give the coaches selection headaches.”

Newcastle captain Ryan Burrows said: “I thought we worked well as a unit at the breakdown, but I thought we were poor and we tried to address it in the warm up, it didn’t happen.

“We tried to address it at half-time, but it’s not happened and it’s come back to bite us. It’s something we’ve got to look at going into next week.

“You can have all these great individual performances but ultimately it’s a team performance and we are bitterly disappointed to just come away with a draw.

“As a game plan we’re great and we’re executing, but we just have to find a buzz somewhere from warm-up and we just need to come out better, whether individually or collectively.”

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