Burgess Hill RFC, the Sussex All Blacks, hosted New Ash Green of Kent 1 in their second and final pre-season fixture on Saturday.
Having won the first fixture vs Seaford the week before at a canter the All Blacks new this week’s encounter would be a sterner test.
New Ash Green from near Gravesend had an unusual season last year winning only one game up to Christmas then losing only 1 game after Christmas! Their turnaround in form was incredible and they came into this game full of confidence.
The All Blacks had selected 22 for game with 5 changes from the team who played Seaford. The starting back line and half the pack was the youngest seen in years with the average age just under 21.
With New Ash Green having a green and black kit the All Blacks changed into one of their alternative kits an unusual pink, black and white camo number!
Despite a few early handling errors the All Blacks started well and the backs and forwards were combining well. After 3 minutes of total control the ball was spun wide at the ruck where centre Rhys Clarke beat his man before drawing the outside centre and passing to Liam Hopwood at outside centre who committed the winger and passed to 18 year old Aussie winger Matt Bird. Bird put on the after burners and scorched up the touch line before committing the cover and passing back inside to full back Tommer Teichman who in turn drew the full back and passed to Hopwood who dotted down under the sticks. Clarke added the extras for a 7-0 lead.
The All Blacks continued to dominate for the next 5 or so minutes.
In a rare piece of possession the men in green kicked for the corner for a 5 metre line out to the All Blacks. At the line out the ball was thrown long only for a Green player to pick it up and drive near the line.
At the ruck the large Green pack run onto the ball where their sizeable second row crashed over for the converted score, 7-7.
The All Blacks came straight back at the men in green with the back row of Jordan Sayers, Connor Chatfield and Andy Mackay dominating proceedings. All the men in green could do to stop the onslaught was kill the ball giving away a string of pens. One such pen was kicked to the corner. The ball was secured at the line out by second row Simon Eyre who set up the ruck. The All Blacks then went about inching their way towards the line with possession being the order of the day. One such carry saw Clarke latch onto Eyre to drive him through 4 players to score. Clarke pushed the conversion across the face for a 12-7 lead after 20 minutes.
The All Blacks made five changes at this point of the game and as a result the tempo changed a little as players got used to the personnel and positional changes. Once they did they were once more devastating. On 32 minutes the All Blacks back line showed their pace and skills. Fly half Sam David passed a ball to Clarke and looped to receive the pass. Everyone including Green expected this, however instead Clarke dummied, showed some footwork and put on the afterburners to score under the sticks which he converted himself 19-7.
With minutes left of the half and in total control player coach OJ now on at 9 noticed no one was at home and box kicked the ball towards the Green line. As the Green full back collected it, open side flanker Connor Chatfield tackled him across the line for a 5 metre scrum to the All Blacks. At the scrum the Black Pack showed their scrummaging strength and drove the Green pack backwards over the line for replacement Number 8 Dave Wattam to dot down for the converted score 26-7 to end the half.
The All Blacks made more changes at half time looking to test the full squad and positions.
The men in green started the second half strongly playing up the slope and took the game to the men in black. After 10 mins of pressure the All Blacks conceded a soft try following a poor kick chase the ball was passed down the wing where their lighting quick winger ran in for the converted score 26-14.
The All Blacks licked the wounds and came straight back at the men in green with Captain and hooker Ben Dewey carrying well before releasing to Sayers and Mackay who were playing linemen possessed. One such break by Mackay saw him off load to Sayers who in turn passed to substitute second row Adam Rez who cantered in under the sticks for the converted score by Clarke 33-14.
Despite the onslaught by the All Blacks the second half was far more even with the men in green using the sizeable pack and useful fly half to probe. On 22 minutes a clever chip over the top was collected and killed by an All Blacks player. At the penalty the men in green kicked for the corner.
At the line out they used their powerful pack to rumble over the line for the unconverted score 33-19.
The All Blacks had the last word following another surge by Dewey, Sayers and Mackay the ball was spun wide by scrum half Massimo Hiller where Simple hands saw outside centre and debutant Joe Priddle score. As Clarke was now off the pitch Priddle took his own conversion narrowly missing the extras for a final score of 38-19.
MoM was Sayers who has been outstanding since converting from centre to back row/second row.
Next week the All Blacks start their league campaign with a tough opener at home to Crawley KO 3pm. With 27 players taking part in the pre season games and another 8-10 first team squad players who have not taken to the field yet the All Blacks have a positive selection headache to contend with this week.
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