The national rugby squad leaves for Budapest tomorrow for Saturday's crucial encounter with Hungary with a clear target: a win that could ensure that Israel finishes atop European Group C2 and gains promotion to the second tier of European rugby.
With two games left in this unprecedented successful campaign, Israel stands two points clear at the top of the table. The national team's rapid improvement is reflected in its international ranking - in April 2007, Israel was ranked 93rd out of 95 IRB member nations, but has since climbed to 61st in the world rankings.
The campaign will wind up with a game against second-placed Denmark on June 2 at the Wingate Institute stadium.
Israel defeated Hungary 23-14 in their previous meeting at the Wingate Institute stadium in October 2010 through tries by captain Nimrod Kaplan and Matan Brosh. Saturday's match starts at 5 P.M. Israel time.
Kaplan, however, will be absent from this trip due to injury and will miss his first national team game in three years. But his elder brother Yonatan, who returns from injury and has been in fine form of late, will add experience to the pack.
"There's a lot of pressure and positive excitement," says national team player Mordechay Radashkovich. "We're standing at the edge of something big. We've been training hard and preparing for these two games in the most professional way. The first game will be a particularly hard test because we haven't played for a long time and didn't have the finances to play warm-up games. It's hard to know where we stand because we haven't really been tested recently."
Radashkovich, who previously played as a forward, moves to the back line for this game. "We're also involved in seven-a-side tournaments, but our squad is deep enough to cover all events," he says. "We'll be coming into this game as favorites; we have a stronger pack and there can be no excuses."
Yonatan Radashkovich - Mordechay's brother - also returns from injury and will add speed to the back line. "Yoni is fit to play. He's one of our quickest players and will add an extra dimension to our attack," says Mordechay. "We're in good form in terms of speed and strength, although I'm sorry about the injury to Nimrod Kaplan because we know what an influence he has on the game."
The powerful Danes will meet the much-improved Austria, currently third, also on Saturday. An Israeli victory and Danish defeat will secure promotion for the blue-and-whites.
The team that finishes top in the C2 division will be automatically promoted to the B2 league, while the second-placed team will play the fourth-ranked team in B2 in a promotion-relegation playoff.
The Israeli squad: Forwards - Daniel Palma, Omri Lotan, Matan Brosh, Oren Alt, Nathan Amos, Oren Brodhurst, Yonatan Kaplan, Yonatan Shaki, Michael Eli, Julien Maffi, Guy Dotan, Mijael Bielak. Backs - Eitan Humphreys, Itamar Harpaz, Amir Beutler, Adrian Rainstein, Gilad Goldstein, Amit Kakoun, Fabian Maguid, Ronen Tollman, Yonatan Radashkovich, Mordechay Radashkovich.
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