Last Saturday Burgess Hill RFC, the Sussex All Blacks travelled to East Grinstead RFC to face Kent 1 champions Hastings and Bexhill RFC in the Sussex Shield final.
Having beaten Sussex 1 champions Crawley at the end of March the build up to the final had been some time coming with seven weeks without a game.
Having lost to H&B in the national cup regional quarter final earlier in the season the All Blacks came into the game as the underdog.
The All Blacks selected a strong squad of 22 and wore their 7s kit in aid of the hot, dry and sunny conditions.
The first half was a tense affair with both teams struggling to create anything with both defences putting in crunching tackles. All Blacks fly half Owain Jenkins (OJ) was giving a master class in territory rugby pinning back the dangerous H&B back three. In retaliation the H&B back row were racking up metres with ball in hand and were turning over ruck ball.
The first score came following a kick return by All Blacks winger John Rainima who beat the first defender before being tackled by 2 players. At the ruck the H&B forwards swarmed in and turned over the ball. The turnover caused much confusion in the All Blacks line and a slick break by the H&B centre saw their prop score in the corner.
The All Blacks picked themselves up and came back at H&B with winger Dave Daly making a good break up the wing before being bundled into touch. An altercation took place and OJ was given a yellow for retaliation.
Despite being down to 14, the All Blacks clawed their way up field with centre Jordan Sayers carrying time and time again.
At a 5 metre scrum, the black pack put the squeeze on and sucked in the H&B back row. All Blacks No.8 and Captain Dave Wattam picked up and fed scrum half Massimo Hiller who fixed the winger before passing to Rainima who scored in the corner. Centre Rhys Clarke missed the extras to tie the scores to end the half 5-5.
H&B came out in the second half and started to show their exemplary form this season and began to dominate possession and territory. Their set piece also started to gain control tying in All Black defenders. During this first 20 minutes of one way traffic the All Blacks tackled like lions with sub back row James Brown hitting a double figure tackle count.
The wall finally fell after a great piece of interplay by the H&B centres saw their inside centre canter in under the posts for the converted score 5-12.
Once more the men in black came back at H&B and following the ball being killed, Rhys Clarke slotted a penalty to reduce the deficit, 8-12.
H&B immediately responded with a long range penalty to increase their lead 8-15. H&B’s next score came from a five metre scrum that saw their 8 put in their winger 8-20. As the All Blacks tired from their relentless defending holes started to appear that saw the H&B inside centre canter in for his second try 8-25.
The All Blacks never know when they are beaten and gave everything for the last five minutes to get a score with Wattam, Brown and sub winger Lewis O’Shea all putting their bodies on the line. The H&B defence was steeley strong and kept the All Blacks out to take the win.
The All Blacks were bitterly disappointed. Maybe it was the long break, maybe it was the occasion however they failed to show the form that saw them only lose once since the end of October. What did please them was the large and vociferous support that came to cheer them on.