ZACH KIBIRIGE celebrated his birthday in style as his hat-trick of tries helped Newcastle Falcons draw with Exeter in their opening game of the Premiership Rugby Cup.

Kibirige turned 24 yesterday, and the former Yarm School pupil ensured he would have an anniversary to remember as he crossed the try line on three separate occasions at Kingston Park.

A frantic start saw both sides go close, but it was midway through the first half before Exeter got the first points on the board courtesy of full-back Max Bodilly, who crossed in the left corner.

Fly-half Harvey Skinner added the extras, but Falcons levelled thanks to Kibirige’s first try, with the winger rounding off a slick passing move that also involved Adam Radwan and Sam Stuart.

Kibirige crossed again before half-time, latching on to Stuart’s well-judged grubber kick from a close-range ruck.

Brett Connon thumped a long-range penalty against the crossbar as Falcons went into the interval with a 12-7 lead, and the two sides exchanged penalties at the start of the second half as the game continued to ebb and flow.

Kibirige gave Falcons some breathing space as he completed his hat-trick is superb style, swopping on to his own kick ahead to score in front of the South Stand.

Connon’s conversion left Newcastle 12 ahead, but their lead was reduced to seven points when James Short raced down the left flank to score.

Exeter pushed hard in the closing stages, and levelled the scores when Bodilly claimed a 70-metre intercept try that was converted from close to the touchline by Skinner.

Newcastle Falcons: Arscott, Kibirige, Stevenson, Bettencourt, Radwan, Connon, Stuart; Davison (Lockwood 45), Socino (Blamire 70), Mulipola (Payne 70), Young, Davidson (Cavubati 70), Burrows, Marshall (Collett 72), Chick.