This Post is dedicated to the memory of Adam Agmon.
Tel Aviv Heat kick-off the 3rd Super Cup season this Saturday against the Lusitanos in Lisbon. Catch them on Rugby Europe TV (live steam at 18:00 and then on VOD)
Let me indulge in that maxim ingrained so strongly in Israeli mentality: גם זה יעבור
This too will pass. Exactly fifty years and a day after the Yom Kippur War, another terrible war has been imposed upon us, the outcomes and consequences still not known. So, close your eyes, and allow me to gaze into the future, only eight years from now, to 2031. Our country is no longer the only democracy in the Middle East, and is strong, vibrant and prosperous, alongside neighbours governed peacefully from Ramallah and Gaza City. The RWC 2031 tournament, hosted in the USA, is about to commence, with Israel (inshallah) qualifying for the first time.
Now, open your eyes, and we are back in 2023. South Africa, the Springboks, have just won the latest RWC in France. The land of my birth backed up their 2019 victory in Japan with a pulsating 1 point victory over New Zealand in the final. Israel was still far from qualification. But with its professional franchise, Tel Aviv Heat, gearing up for its third season of the Super Cup, the dream of playing in RWC 2031 remains alive and real. The one country whose absence was most noticeable in France, was in fact the 2031 hosts, USA. The US Eagles had only ever missed out on one World Cup previously, and with a highly competitive domestic league, Major League Rugby (MLR), and over 125,000 registered players, failure to qualify for World Rugby’s flagship tournament was abysmal. The US market remains of utmost importance to the exposure and brand of Tel Aviv Heat. A couple of months back in August, the Heat participated in the rambunctious RugbyTown Sevens tournament near Denver, Colorado. This is the second year running they participated, with them again making the quarterfinals before being knocked out. They finished a credible 6th place overall. RugbyTown is undoubtably an important part of rugby Americana. It started some years ago as an invitational tournament for US Armed Services. With an annual defence budget of over $840 billion, one would assume there is some spend available for rugby balls, tackle bags and rugby posts. I am not sure which other country could churn out rugby teams representing the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy? God Bless America.
The Tel Aviv Heat continues to attract top players and coaches. Director of Rugby, Kevin Musikanth, was joined by former player and current USA Maccabi head-honcho, Taylor Howden, in coaching the team. Calum Randle, from the GB Sevens Team and Montpellier, Seb Brien and Harry Sayers (both from Hong Kong Sevens) and Michael Baska (capped for the US Eagles) all joined the party. There were four Israeli players in the side: Gilad Vardi, Idan Eisenberg, Omer Levinson and Thomas Berman. The latter, methinks, has already made history by being the first Jewish oleh to Israel, who happens to be a professional rugby player. More of these please, TAH. The side was captained for the first time by an Israeli, Omer Levinson. This in itself is a measure of the development of local players that the Heat has enabled. The former US Eagles captain, Todd Clever, was nicknamed “Captain America”, and, perhaps with time, Omer will be known as “Captain Sabra”? Speaking to him after the tournament, Omer was immensely proud to lead the team, and getting the new players fully integrated into the spirit and culture of TAH in no time. His fondest memories of the tournament? Seeing loads of Israeli flags in the stands supporting the team, and participating in a training session with the Denver Rugby Movement, an organization that helps members of the community with intellectual and developmental disabilities to participate in rugby. See some pics on their site, with TAH players in tow. Having binge-watched the World Sevens Rugby circuit for years, I fully concur with Musikanth’s assessment that this tournament is of an extremely high-level, and not much below the standard and pace of the World Series.
Snap back to reality, ope, there goes gravity. Rugby as a game is oft compared to war on the field. Well it’s f*cking war off the field here. And local players are in the thick of it. Rugby Israel’s Facebook feed is full of stories of local players and coaches boosting morale and running clinics for evacuated children, serving in elite units and in milu’im (reserve duty) on the front, and even getting injured in battle. We see Ofer Fabian, president of the Rugby Israel, patrolling on a community watch in his hometown, and we see Adi Raz, TAH Chairman, barbecuing for soldiers based near Kiryat Shemona, up north. We also read about Adam Agmon, a sergeant in the Parachute Brigade, who fell in battle on October 7, trying to rescue residents at Kibbutz Kissufim. New Zealand born to Israeli parents, Adam grew up in Israel, a die-hard All Blacks supporter. The game played in heaven has a new player…
Watching South Africa win at RWC was bittersweet. It’s hard to fully enjoy the moment with a war going on. It’s also hard to enjoy the moment, knowing the South African Government has refused to condemn Hamas for its crimes against humanity. Hopefully by RWC 2031 things will be different. Meanwhile, watching the Tel Aviv Heat doesn’t bring up any conflicting emotions. Watching and supporting them whilst at war can only be cathartic.
Rest in peace Adam.