All Blacks suffer a shock defeat in Essex
Southend 20, Cornish All Blacks 17
CORNISH All Blacks' fine run of form hit the buffers as they went down to relegation-threatened Southend at Warners Park Bridge.
The All Blacks were hoping to break into the top five in the division ahead of their big Cornish derby against Redruth on Saturday, but instead suffered only their second defeat in 10 league games.
Southend were playing their first home match in almost two months, due to the wretched weather, and were keen to impress their hardy band of supporters to keep their hopes of National Two South survival alive.
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The All Blacks trailed the men from Essex 13-3 at the interval, and left themselves with too much to do. In fact, they only picked up a bonus point to show for their near 600-mile round trip with a try in the last minute of the game in a frantic finale which saw Southend reduced to 12 men by three yellow cards in the space of four minutes as they desperately tried to keep their visitors out.
All Blacks skipper and assistant coach Tom Rawlings said: "We came a bit unstuck and we only came back with a bonus point.
"Credit to Southend, they had not played at home in two months and you could see they were up for it.
"I am not saying we weren't, but we didn't approach the first half very well.
"We had the opportunities to put points on the board and score some tries, but we didn't finish them off.
"Southend were definitely a beatable team on Saturday, but we weren't able to end the game on a high note of a win, which was a bit frustrating."
The All Blacks, who had beaten Southend 38-6 when the two sides met at Polson Bridge in October, took an early lead with a fifth-minute penalty by fly half Jake Murphy, and the hosts then suffered the loss of captain and loose-head prop Mike Guess to an eye injury.
But they hit back when a good line-out and quick ball found winger Mark Billings, who raced through to score, and even though the conversion was missed, Southend led 5-3.
The All Blacks put Southend on the back foot for the next ten minutes, but eventually they lost possession, and the hosts got down the other end of the pitch to score their second try through No8 Daniel Legge, playing his first game in 18 months, to make it 10-3.
The visitors started giving away a lot of penalties, and referee Rob Warburton eventually lost patience, sin-binning lock Ben Hilton and awarding a kick under the posts, which was slotted by full back Andrew Frost for a 13-3 interval lead.
Southend's one-man advantage at the start of the second period was quickly nullified as they lost lock Andrew McClintock to the sin-bin, and the scoreline remained unchanged for a lengthy period. But in the 67th minute, the All Blacks got right back into it when the referee awarded them a penalty try, and Murphy converted, to cut the gap to 13-10.
However, only three minutes later, Southend struck a killer blow when they counter-attacked, and after some fierce rucking, forced their way over the try line through scrum half Sam Arnott, with Frost converting to stretch their lead to 10 points and with time running out.
In a desperate last few minutes, Southend gave away a series of penalties in defence which saw flankers Chris Green and Harry Hudson sin-binned and, down to 13 men, they conceded a try to Hilton, converted by Murphy, which got the All Blacks to within three points at 20-17 and bonus point range.
Southend also lost lock Alan Barker to a yellow card in the process, but their 12 men only had to deal with the restart kick to seal victory, and they managed to achieve that.