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Israel Rugby team turns up heat in SA



The Tel Aviv Heat (TAH), Israel’s first professional rugby union team, are scheduled to tour South Africa this month.

The team, made up of South Africans, Israelis and players of other nationalities, was invited by the Blue Bulls Rugby Union (BBRU). They will play against Northam Rhinos at Northam in Limpopo this Saturday. Then, they take on ABE Midas Naka Bulls at Naka on 23 March and finally, the big game against the Loftus 200 Invitational Squad at Loftus Versveld on 26 March for the Robert Denton Cup (the former BBRU administrator).

TAH’s South African-born head coach, Kevin Musikanth, said, “We’re grateful to the BBRU to tour and give our talented squad exposure in one of the strongest rugby regions globally. This will give them an amazing momentum builder as we prepare for the upcoming play offs in the European Super Cup (ESC) next month.

“We’ve built an inclusive culture at the Heat, with players from around the world, featuring South Africa, England, Israel, Argentina, Namibia and Fiji,” he said.

Meanwhile, TAH is going to play in the ESC play-offs by default. The Russian champions, Enisey TSM, have been suspended because of the conflict in Ukraine. Despite TAH being knocked out in the play-offs of the Super Cup, they are now planning to show their muscle, determination, discipline, creativity and skill.

The Heat has gained the respect and admiration of their Georgian and Russian opponents. In the first round, in their away fixtures, the Heat won two out of three games in their pool. They beat Enisey 34-31 and Lokomotiv 29-23 (both from Russia), while losing to Black Lion from Georgia 33-10.

The second round, home games were scheduled to be played at the modern and innovative Shlomo Bituach Stadium in Petah Tikva. However, two of the games had to be played in Georgia due to COVID-19, while the final fixture was contested in Israel. The Heat defeated Lokomotiv 33-14. They claimed a bonus point, increasing their chances of qualifying for the semifinals.

Nick Groom, the captain, and Sottish international Josh Strauss, were unable to travel due to the pandemic. Jeremy Jordaan, the South African lock, and Niall Saunders, the scrumhalf for Harlequins, replaced them. The captain’s armband went to Jordan Chiat, who was on loan from the Sharks U/21. In the penultimate encounter, the Heat came up short against Enisey in a tough and tense encounter, losing 34-31.

It was down to the final game against log leaders, Black Lion, in Israel. Hundreds of fans turned out to support the Heat. Said Musikanth, “The first professional game on home soil, it’s a must-win match for us.” Filled with Georgian internationals, Black Lion overcame the Heat 52-28 in a pulsating game. The Eastern Conference standings were: Black Lion in first place with 20 points, followed by second-placed Enisey on 16 points, with TAH in third position on 14 points, and last, Lokomotiv on five points.

The suspension of Enisey has given the TAH a new lease on life, having qualified for the play-offs.

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