Israel notched up an impressive 26-5 victory over the powerful Andorran national team in the qualifying round of the European Championships yesterday in the Pyrenean principality.

On a difficult pitch and in freezing conditions, the two teams fought out a bruising, balanced first half. Israel took a 7-0 lead through an Eitan Humphries try, but the hosts pulled one try back in the 34th minute for 7-5 at halftime.

The addition of Nimrod Kaplan and Willie Heiman at the start of the second half gave Israel the extra speed needed to win the game, and in the 50th minute the blue-and-whites went 14-5 ahead through a penalty try.

Nine minutes later, fleet-footed center Ronen Tolman scored Israel's third try for 21-5. Even the sin-binning of Fabian Magid failed to stop the momentum, and Natan Brosh scored Israel's fourth try to seal a convincing victory.

Israel now stands atop Qualifying Group B2.

"The players gave a great game based on courage and self-sacrifice that ended with an excellent result," gushed Israel's coach Raanan Penn after the game, but added a warning: "We have become the favorite team in the group and now all the other teams will be out to beat us."

Israel's next two games of the campaign, at the Wingate Institute stadium in April, will dictate which of the teams wins promotion to the next tier of European rugby, which also serves as the qualifying round for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.