David Arkin

Tel Aviv Heat in ‘winning draw’ against Super Cup Rugby Champs, Black Lion

Tel Aviv Heat rugby team came agonisingly close to defeating the Georgian team, Black Lion (the inaugural Rugby Europe’s Super Cup winners from last season). A missed kick at the death resulted in the spoils being shared 25-25 in Kutaisi. See the carefully crafted match report here on the TAH website

On the balance of it, a draw with three tries, two conversions and two penalties a piece was a fair reflection of the game. The main difference on the score sheet was the two yellow cards dished out to the Heat, which meant them playing 20 minutes with only 14 men. Despite this, they lead 17-13 at half-time, and as late as the 73rd minute 25-18. In the pre-match interview, Coach Kevin Musikanth alluded to the fact that the extra week together was super beneficial in preparing their set piece for this game. The good opening win last week against the Romanian Wolves was registered despite minimal preparation together as a squad, 18 penalties conceded and an erratic lineout. Many of last week’s weaknesses were largely ironed out, and their line speed on defence was also faster and more cohesive. Despite not closing out the win, the performance was a step up from last week, against a stronger team.

In fact, that may be an understatement, for the Black Lion (or Shavi Lomi as they are known locally) are a very strong team. Like the Heat, the club was set up last year specifically to play in the Super Cup, and serves as a development tool for the Georgian national side as they build towards Rugby World Cup 2023. The Black Lion coach, Levan Maisashvili, also doubles as the Georgian coach. He has three assistant coaches, and a whole plethora of support staff (at least ten according to the Georgia Rugby Union site, including strength & conditioning coaches, physiotherapists and analysts). In short, this team is invested, plays to win, and whether they like it or not, must be the favourites to take the title again this season. In fact, after winning the first Super Cup final early in May this year, they travelled to South Africa to participate in the Currie Cup First Division competition. Their involvement largely flew under the radar, but they built on their success in Europe and took on South Africa’s smaller unions with gusto, winning on the road in the so-called country districts in venues like George, Potchefstroom, East London and Wellington. They lost narrowly in the semi-final by three points in Welkom (after extra time) to eventual winners, the Touch Down Griffons.

During the game, the Rugby Europe commentators stressed that there were six changes in the Black Lions team this week (as opposed to only three in the Heat) and that they were still building at the start to reach the lofty heights of the previous season. True, but this is also correct for all teams at the beginning of the season. There were still 14 capped Georgian players in the Black Lion side this last week (10 starters and 4 on the bench). For all intents and purposes, this was a settled team in a settled wider squad. This is precisely why the ‘’winning draw’’ (to borrow a cricketing term) was so impressive. The Heat leaked 7 tries and over 50 points the last time out, at home, against the same team in December 2021. Although they managed to score 4 tries in reply, the scrummaging (a traditional Georgian strength) and mauling was noticeably on the backfoot that day. Keeping parity with the SC Champions, at home, bodes well for their final away conference game next week, and no doubt will imbue a lot of confidence for the home games that follow.

Finally, a word about Kutaisi. It’s a picturesque city, with many historical buildings (as well as an old synagogue) and boasts a colourful history dating back to many ancient kingdoms. It was also the venue of the first official rugby test match of a Georgian side, against Zimbabwe in 1989 (prior to this Georgia played under the Soviet Union). Post-match, the Heat squad was seen celebrating their good performance over a meal at a café, led in song by the Fijian contingent. Apparently, they were spotted swimming in the Rioni river too. Hellenic studies suggest this is the same river mentioned in Greek mythology, where Jason and the Argonauts sailed up from Poti on the coast of the Black Sea to Colchis, in search of the Golden Fleece. In fact, some Greek historians locate ancient Colchis as present-day Kutaisi. The Tel Aviv Heat are slowly building their own legend. This week Musikanth and his charges travelled in the opposite direction, down said river to the coast, then slightly south to Batumi.

RC Batumi await them this coming Saturday, 24.09.2022 at 14:00 (local time in Israel). In the other fixture in the round, the Romanian Wolves dispatched RC Batumi soundly 37-15. All the games are live and free on VOD on the Rugby Europe TV site at any time.

About the Author
David is a proud supporter of the Tel Aviv Heat Rugby team, Israel's first professional rugby franchise. He may have been a rugby scribe in a former life. In his current avatar, he is a project manager at Hanson Israel, a subsidiary of the Heidelberg Materials Group