The Tel Aviv Heat will play in Rugby Europe’s Super Cup final in Tbilisi on 17 December. They earned the right to play for the trophy against the defending Georgian Champions, Black Lion. They followed up their match-winning friendly against Saracens with a controlled 30-22 victory over the Portuguese side in Lisbon in their semi-final. In case you were wondering, Lusitanos are also the renowned horse breed, whom the Romans once bred for war.
The Heat spent no time prancing about like in a dressage competition, rather they used their defensive line-speed from the opening whistle to pressurise the Portuguese. This was also used effectively the week before against Sarries, and they gave precious little room to the dangerous Lusitano backs throughout the knockout game. As early as the 3rd minute, they managed to pin the opposition fullback as he tried to run out of his goal line, which turned into an easy penalty for flyhalf Chait. He was the run-on captain for the game, with regular captain, Prince Gaoseb, nursing an injury. There was a second penalty when the Lusitanos went off their feet in a ruck in the 12th minute, 6-0. And five minutes later, an attacking lineout led to a rolling maul, with the hooker Venter crashing over. The conversion was missed and all the play was being made by the Heat in the opening quarter 11-0. The home side got back in the game in the 2nd quarter. In their first foray into the Heat 22m, they won a penalty when the TAH forwards did not roll away in the tackle. 11-3. And in their second foray, an overthrow from a defensive lineout led to a try out wide on the wing. The conversion was good, and at half-time, it was one-point game 11-10.
The second half started like the first: stout defense led to kickable penalties for the Heat. In the 48th minute it was 14-10. Nacebe then scored a scorcher on the rightwing. It started a with a big shove by the scrum, Kunatani picked it up at the back, and the big eighthman made some hard yards, before it was recycled and swung wide. The conversion was true and it was 21-10 in the 56th minute. Lusitanos fullback Cardosa Pinto got one back, with a brilliant run into the corner. 21-15. But the Heat had finished horsing about and closed the game out in the final quarter in excellent fashion, with Chait knocking over three more penalties. This, despite rightwing Saunders being shown a yellow card for cynical play. Lusitanos did score a third try at the end as the clock ran red, off a well-executed set move, but the game was well won by then.
In the post-match interview, the Lusitanos coach said their biggest challenge was focusing after the massive RWC qualification tournament that Portugal had won a fortnight previously. They were in RWC heaven, with 15 members of the club side also in the National squad. But the Heat brought them back down to earth, in an ideal fashion to build up to this weekend’s final. In the other semi-final game, the Black Lion were in no charitable mood with the side from Spain, the Iberians. They gave an impervious display, running in six tries to nil for a commanding 41-9 victory. Georgia, too, had entered a rugby nirvana, when they beat Wales 13-12 in Cardiff, in the Autumn Nations Series on 19 November. Eight members of the squad from that game also played against the Iberians. To wrest the title away from the Georgian team will be a big undertaking, even though the Heat drew with them 25-25 away, and beat them at home 24-18 in the return fixture during pool play. The Georgian players and their coach no doubt have a chip on their shoulders. Having also beaten Italy earlier in the year, they are no closer to entering the exclusive Six Nations Championship. In fact, when that tournament starts next year, they will need to travel to Germany and Netherlands to play these countries in the much less fancied Rugby Europe Championship. The Rugby Elite of Europe continue to shun Georgian rugby, and all the progress they have made in recent years. Jetting into London, Cardiff, Dublin, Edinburgh, Paris or Rome does not have the same gravitas as jetting into Tbilisi. Until this changes, Tel Aviv Heat will have to fly in there, play hard to steal the crown from the current Black Lion kings, and then jet back into Tel Aviv as Champions.
Catch the game live on Channel 5 Plus in Israel, 14:00 on 17 December or streaming on the Rugby Europe site. Follow telavivheat.com for more details on the team