Rugby / European Group 2C / Historic campaign reaches climax
Group leader Israel is just one game away from promotion.
It's being called "the most important game in the history of Israeli rugby." Israel's most successful international campaign by far will wind up on Saturday with a crucial game against Denmark. At stake: promotion to Europe's 2B league and a chance to rank among the world's strongest 50 countries.
Some 1,500 vociferous spectators are expected at the Wingate Institute stadium (kick off is at 3 P.M., free entrance ). Israel stands atop Group 2C with 24 points, two points ahead of the Danes. Victory or a draw would mean promotion. A loss would mean a promotion-relegation playoff game against the fourth-ranked team in Group 2B, Slovenia.
According to the International Rugby Board, Israel currently ranks 57th in the world - a leap from 93rd out of 95 IRB member nations as recently April 2007. Not bad for a sport that has stagnated in terms of player numbers for three decades.
Sources in the squad say that Israel will try to frustrate the high-flying Danish back line by keeping the ball with its forwards in the first half. With Yonatan Kaplan jumping as number two, Israel has consistently dominated the line-outs in previous games.
"It will undoubtably be a tactical game," predicts national team regular Mordechay Radashkovich. "We will try to play to our strengths - particularly in the set plays such as scrums and line-outs - and try to wear the opposition down by controlling the game and using our preprepared moves."
Built around the imposing prop Matan Brosh, the pack has been working out intensively with the help of a recently acquired scrumming machine. The team is following a strict training program under the watchful eye of coach Ra'anan Penn.
"In the last week we've really molded into a unit," said the team's goal-kicker, Amir Beutler. "There's a great atmosphere in the squad, if a little tense. We've worked hard to reach this point and now know that there is no option other than to go all the way. The Danes are coming here knowing that no result other than a victory will satisfy them. They are very big and powerful players. I call on the fans to fill the Wingate stadium and root for us. We need their support," Beutler said.