The Sussex All Blacks hosted second-placed Uckfield in the league on Saturday.
Having dominated the first half at their place earlier in the season ahead of sustaining 4 injuries and then being put to the sword the All Blacks came into this fixture confident they could take the win against a side who had only lost once this season. With 6 enforced changes to the side that beat Horsham the week before the All Blacks welcomed back a number of their squad and gave a debut to a man mountain of a winger, Will Fell.
The All Blacks could not have started any worse with fly half and Captain Sam David tearing his hamstring within 1 minute as he chased down an Uckfield player. After leaving the field, Richard Fleming came onto the field at fly half. His introduction to the game could not have gone worse when receiving scrappy ball from a lineout in his own 22 he span the ball wide only for it to be spilled in the midfield. The Uckfield outside centre picked up the ball and dotted down between the sticks for the converted score after two minutes, 0-7.
The All Blacks re-gathered themselves at this point and started to play rugby in the right areas of the field. After a number of forays into the Uckfield half they were awarded a penalty after Uckfield killed the ball at the ruck. Up stepped centre Rhys Clarke to take a shot at goal which narrowly went wide.
The All Blacks continued to look good with ball in hand with back row of Dave Wattam, Eddie Chekera and James Brown getting through a lot of work before the ball was spun wider where Jordan Sayers at centre was making ground before passing to his wing pairing of Fijian flyer John Rainima and man mountain Will Fell who were both getting over the game line.
After 15 minutes of pressure in the Uckfield 22, Uckfield gave away 2 penalties which Clarke slotted to take to the score to 6-7.
It was at this point that Fell left the field with an injury and on came second row Charlie Rutter onto the wing. Height wise it was straight replacement however size wise, Rutter was giving 50kilos!
With 5 minutes left of the half, All Blacks scrum half Massimo Hiller noticed no one was at home and put a box kick in from the halfway line. James Brown was quickest to react and showed his former centre pace to outstrip the Uckfield defence before diving on the ball and getting back to his feet. At the ruck the ball was carried on by the forwards. Hiller got his hands on the ball and passed to Brown who as the defence approached put in a cross field kick with the outside of his boot. On the wing was Hooker Tony Cella who dotted the ball down for the unconverted score 11-7.
The All Blacks went into half time buoyed by the turnaround especially as Uckfield had not created a single chance in the first half not even a kick at goal.
Uckfield however came out in the second half and played all the rugby. Their 10 started to use the ball more and his centre pairing were carrying well before their forwards picked and went to gain ground. During this period the All Blacks showed tremendous defence felling Uckfield runners like a Canadian logger fells Redwoods. Clarke, Sayers and Chekera were soon up to double figure tackle counts.
When this tactic did not work Uckfield looked for territory however the re jigged back three of full back George Yeates, Rainima and Rutter handled everything Uckfield sent their way choosing to kick, run and pass as the opportunity presented. On more the one occasion Yeates showed his magic feet beating two or three defenders before offloading to a supporting forward to carry the ball on.
The last 10 minutes of the half were all played in the Uckfield 22 despite the All Blacks being down to 14 men due to a yellow card to second row Adam Rez for a team offence. During this period Chekera, Brown, Sayers and Rainima carried time and time again edging towards the Uckfield line. Uckfield showed incredible defence to keep the waves of attack out on a pitch that was now a mud bath.
When the final whistle blew the All Black players and supporters roared with delight to win this tight game.
The Ridgeview Wine Estate man of the match was hotly contested by the likes of Yeates, Sayers, Clarke and Wattam however in the end went to James Brown who was class from start to finish.
Next week the All Blacks are in National Cup action away to Hastings RFC in the National Junior Vase regional quarter final KO 1:30pm. With the seconds also playing in Hastings that day a “fun bus” is being laid on for all players and supporters.