Last Saturday the Sussex All Blacks played host to league leaders and national cup semi-finalists Heathfield and Waldron.
Having lost 59-8 away to Heathfield in December the All Blacks knew they had a stern test ahead of them. Unlike the reverse fixture the team that took to the field was decidedly more youthful with 7 of the All Blacks team aged 19 or under.
The All Blacks started well and for the first 10 minutes they played all the rugby in the Heathfield half. The pack were driving well into the Heathfield defence with the second rows of Simon Eyre and Adam Rez supported by No.8 Dave Wattam gaining good ground every time they had the ball. The backs were getting some good ball and via the boot of full back Owain Jenkins they were playing in the right areas of the park. At the scrum they were also exerting pressure causing Heathfield to collapse their scrum on two occasions. On both occasions Rhys Clarke took a shot at goal converting on one occasion for 3-0 lead.
Heathfield then showed why they are one of the best level 8 teams in country as their backline showed their power and pace scoring a try down the right flank which was converted by their fullback to lead 3-7. Heathfield almost scored a carbon copy minutes later however some big hits caused the ball to spill lose as the Heathfield winger was in the process of scoring.
The All Blacks came back at Heathfield and following some forward drives the ball was kicked for the corner. The Heathfield full back was caught by All Blacks winger Matt Bird who scythed him down in the tackle. All Black flanker Andy Mackay ripped the ball in the tackle and took it on before passing to hooker and captain Ben Dewey who sprinted 15 metres to score in the corner. Clarke narrowly missed the conversion to retake the lead 8-7.
Heathfield once more came back at the All Blacks where their classy backline once again showed pace and great hands for their lightning quick outside centre to canter in for an unconverted try to take the lead back 8-12.
The All Blacks once more came back at Heathfield where Mackay and Wattam combined well to make a break in midfield where the ball was killed by Heathfield at the ruck. Clarke stepped up to reduce the deficit 11-12.
The All Blacks were now fighting for every inch of pitch and were putting in thumping tackles and hits at the breakdown to stop Heathfield in their tracks. One such breakdown resulted in a flare up that saw Eyre retaliate to a punch by ripping off the large Heathfield second rows scrum cap off right in front of the referee. Eyre was subsequently sent to the sin bin for 10 minutes to cool down.
The half ended with both sides battling it out in the midfield.
The All Blacks once more came out at a canter with the forwards earning hard yards before the backline took on their illustrious counter parts. Centre Dave Daly and winger Matt Bird were showing their own pace and handling skills as they made ground with ball in hand. At an attacking ruck 30 metres out Heathfield killed the ball. Clarke stepped up to retake the lead 14-12.
The All Blacks then sat back and let Heathfield play which was a bad mistake as they racked up 3 tries and 2 conversion following some powerful forward work and slick backs handing to lead 14-31.
The All Blacks were not outdone however and following a backs move in their own half the ball was spun wide where Dewey draw a defender before releasing Bird who ran on before grubber kicking towards the try line. The Heathfield full back dived on the ball and as he got to his feet, Bird tackled him to the ground. Mackay as ever was on hand where he kicked the ball at through the ruck before collecting and diving over the line for the score in the corner. Clarke hit the conversion attempt exquisitely however it dropped just short falling under the bar at the last moment, 19-31.
Heathfield came straight back at the All Blacks and following a barn storming run by their powerful right winger a ruck was set up 1 metre from the line where their No.8 dotted down for the simple score. The Heathfield full back hit the touchline conversion 19-38.
The final score of the game was the best of the match as the Heathfield outside centre cut through the now tired All Blacks defence before passing inside to one of 3 support runners to go in for the converted score to end the game 19-45.
The All Blacks were disappointed with the final score after battling so hard in the for 60 minutes of the game however in the end Heathfield showed why they are 1 game away from Twickenham and top of the league. Their precision, pace and power is the best the All Blacks have encountered this season.
The Sussex Osteopathy Man of the Match award went to Andy Mackay who covered every inch of the pitch Hunting anyone wearing green.
The All Blacks are next in action on the 2nd April away to Old Dunstonians a team they beat at home earlier in the season.
If anyone would like to join the Sussex All Blacks, please contact Director of Rugby Ross Hallifax on 07941 016836 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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