The Tel Aviv Heat followed up their good win against the Lusitanos last week, with a maiden victory over the Castilla y León Iberians in Valladolid. Final score 38-20. It was the first time TAH played in Spain (after Israel, Russia, Georgia, Romania, South Africa, England, Portugal, USA… I think I listed all?). It was also their first time against the Iberians, who had played in a different Conference in the previous two editions of the RE Super Cup. At the start of the season, the Spanish Rugby Federation declared the Iberians were going to be the ‘B Team of Spain’. Spain, in fact, qualified for RWC 2023, before being disqualified over playing an ineligible player. So the quality of their squad was not in doubt. World Cup years often provide excuses to Administrators to fiddle with competition formats, with Rugby Europe proving not be an exception. With last year’s winners, Black Lion, being invited to the EPCR Challenge Cup, this year’s fixture list for RESC was compressed from a 8 game format (more similar to RWC) to a 5 game format (more like Six Nations). The semi-finalists from last year were bundled into one pool, and the other 4 teams making up the second pool.
In case your Spanish geography is a bit rusty, Castilla y León is the largest autonomous community (like a province or region) in northwestern Spain, and Valladolid is the regional capital. Cristopher Columbus died there in 1506, still wondering if in fact he had managed to sail to the Indies (Asia), instead of bumping into the Americas. But the Heat had no intention of leaving Valladolid, wondering what it would mean to lose there. They opened each half with a two try burst, effectively burying their hosts, and ensuring they led the game from start to finish. And they also ended each half with a try a piece, dotting down for six tries in total. Their scrumming was good, and their lineouts were firing. But the Spanish side scrambled on defence with impressive line speed, winning crucial turnovers to stop their momentum. Several handling errors also confounded their efforts to post a bigger score. And then there were the yellow cards. One in each half would have galvanised the Iberians into thinking they could come back into the game. Lock Louis Conradie was shown yellow for dangerous play in the lineout, and prop Dlamini Mheli was carded for head contact in a tackle in the second half. Tall for a front-rower at almost 6 ft 3, and affectionately known as “Giraffe”, it was a harsh call for the big guy to get low enough to avoid any head contact. But he was back on at the end, and won a crucial turnover on the TAH line, preventing the Spaniards from scoring a 4th try, and in so doing, kept the three try advantage allowing a winning bonus point.
Coach Kevin Musikanth again employed a 6:2 bench split, ensuring the TAH set-piece was a solid attacking platform throughout the game. I was happy to see local lad, Ori Abutbul, winging it for the full 80 minutes. He had a workman-like performance. And I also appreciated his wrist bandage with a “Bring them home now” message clearly displayed. And another Sabra, replacement scrumhalf, Omer Levinson, sporting a mullet haircut, also had a good 30-minute run. The Heat players, coaches and support staff would have left Spain satisfied with a good win. They are again in new territory this week, Cyprus, preparing for a ‘’home’’ game against the Black Lion. The Black Sabbath of October 7 has robbed local rugby fans of watching them live in Israel. The play their third pool game against the Champions in Limassol at 19:00 on Saturday evening. Watch it live on Channel 5 or on Rugby Europe TV.