Last Saturday the Sussex All Blacks travelled to Hastings in the regional quarter final of the National Junior Vase.
The All Blacks new it was going to be a tough encounter as Hastings are top of Kent 1 having only lost once this season and are unbeaten at home in the last 9 months.
The All Blacks made 7 changes to their squad that beat Uckfield the week before with 3 of those changes being injuries.
Hastings came out of the blocks and took the game to the All Blacks. Their large forwards carried hard before the ball was spun wide to their pacey backs. Despite the pressure the All Blacks kept their defenaivw shape.
The first score of the game came from an individual peice of brilliance from the Hastings full back. After fielding a kick down field the All Blacks kicked long into the Hastings half. The Hastings full back beat the first 2 defenders then went on a masey run beating players at will. After getting within 5 metres of the try line he popped to his winger who squeezed in the corner. The Hastings 10 missed the conversion from the touchline.
The All Blacks regathered themselves at this point and began to go through the phases in the Hastings half. In the forwards props Paul Hasib and Jon Phillpot were getting through a lot of work as were second rows Simon Eyre and Adam Rez. At the ruck scrum half Massimo Hiller was releasing his backline where Jordan Sayers at 10 was finding his centre pairing of Rhys Clarke and Dave Daly.
After pounding at the Hastings line for 5 minutes the All Blacks were awarded a penalty which Clarke slotted 5-3.
Hastings were next on the score sheet in what proved to be a highly controversial score. After another massey run by their full back a series of forward drives took place near the right hand touchline 5 metres out from the All Blacks line. One of the Hastings players was adjudged to have gone into touch by the Hastings touch judge so he raised his flag. The ball was still live at this point and passed down the line. After a quick ruck the large Hastings 8 crashed over for the score. The touch judge held his flag aloft seemingly ruling out the score. The referee acknowleged the linesman and chose to controversially overule him and let the converted try stand, 12-3.
The All Blacks enraged by the decision once more clawed their way back up pitch. Following a penalty Clarke stepped up and slotted the penalty 12-6.
It was at this point that Sayers left the field with Hamsting injury, the All Blacks 3rd hammy injury in the last 2 weeks. This injury resulted in a rejig in personnel and whilst everyone was coming to terms with this, Hastings scored another try to take their lead to 17-6.
Having once more regathered themselves the All Blacks once more pushed towards the try line. After some good forward drives by the All Blacks winger John Rainima now playing in the centres went on a massey run before being high tackled. With the referee playing advantage the ball was passed back to Daly who slotted a drop goal from the 22 metre line, 17-9.
The All Blacks came out in the second half like men possessed with captain and hooker Ben Dewey and No.8 Dave Wattam getting through a lot of work.
The All Blacks pounded at the Hastings line for 10 minutes. The Hastings line stayed strong strong but as the All Blacks creeped nearer the Hastings players strayed off side time and time again. In the end the referee was left with little choice and yellow carded one of the Hastings players.
After a number of forward drives eventually the All Blacks got over the line with the score going to Wattam. Clarke added the extras, 17-16.
Hastings came straight back at the All Blacks and after a neat grubber through the Hastings winger dotted the lose ball down over the try line for the unconverted score 22-16.
With 15 minutes left on the clock, once more the All Blacks pressed for the score and were camped in the Hastings half. Substitute prop Andy Mackay was carrying well as was full back George Yeates who was beating the first man everytime he got the ball.
At a scrum inside the Hastings half, the ball was spun wide. Rainima read the play and sprinted on and intercepted the ball before running on and scoring. Clarke added the extras to take the lead 22-23.
The All Blacks now had their tails up whereas the Hastings players looked spent having defended for so long. With less than 5 minutes on the clock, the All Blacks smelt blood and following a penalty on the half way line they kicked for the corner.
At the lineout, Hastings secured the ball and drove upfield before kicking long. The All Blacks knocked the ball on just inside their 22 metre area. At the scrum Hastings put on the squeeze but the All Blacks stayed strong. The ball was passed out to the Hastings 10 whi took the ball on before passing inside to his winger who had come off his wing. The pass looked forward to everyone not wearing a Hastings shirt as he crossed the line for the converted score in the final play of the game, 29-23.
The All Blacks can hold their head high as they were seconds away from making the semi finals. Had a couple of the decisions gone their way it might have been them celebrating a famous victory. Alas it was not to be their day and Hastings took the win by scoring more tries.
The Ridgeview Wine Estate man of the match went to No.8 Dave Wattam who showed all his experience to give the All Blacks constant go forward ball.
Next week the All Blacks travel to Hellingly in the league. With both teams in the top half of the table and eyeing a play off place it should be another humdinger of a game.