The bad news is that the Israeli national rugby team is ranked 91st in the world, in a list of 95 nations that play the sport. The good news is that tomorrow, when Israel plays its third match in Division 3C of the 2008-2010 European Nations Cup, it will be playing Luxembourg, one of just four teams ranked lower.
And if you're looking for good omens ahead of the match, then it's worth bearing in mind that the national team has a perfect record so far in the division, with away wins over Bulgaria (ranked 92) and the unranked Greeks, that its biggest win to date, a 62-3 romp eight years ago, came against Luxembourg, and that it is on a five-game winning streak in international games.
Victory over Luxembourg will cement Israel's place at the top of the division, with the team that finishes first after completing its first four matches earning the chance to compete for a place in the 2011 World Cup, as well as gaining promotion to Division 3B.
According to the recently retired president of the Israel Rugby Union, Tomas Miller, some 1,000 spectators are expected to turn up to watch tomorrow's match, which will be played after the end of the Sabbath at the Wingate Institute. Anyone hoping to catch the game on television, however, will be disappointed. "It's very frustrating," Miller told Haaretz yesterday. "The Israeli television channels are willing to show any old game of soccer, no matter how poor the quality, but when it comes to rugby - nothing."
National team coach Ra'anan Penn says that he is optimistic for tomorrow's game, but warns that Luxembourg will be no push-over. "They've improved greatly since the last time we played them," he told Haaretz. "The won an away game against Finland and then lost a really close match at home to Bulgaria, so there will be no repeat of the 62-3 win. Luxembourg is a very physical team, on a level similar to us, so the game should be an interesting and tough one."
According to Penn, the backbone of the Israeli team is made up of three members of the foreign legion - Israelis who are based and play abroad: Nathan Amos, who plays semi-professionally in Ireland, and Nimrod Kaplan and Matan Brosh, both of whom play in England.
The three legionnaires arrived in Israel earlier this week and joined up with their teammates for two training sessions yesterday.
Penn says that his goal is to end the eight-game group with a perfect record and gain promotion for the first time in Israel's history. "Obviously," he says, "we're some way off the level of the world's best teams, but if we gain promotion to Group 3B and manage to advance at least one stage in the play-offs for the 2011 World Cup - I will be pleased."
The national team is also preparing for this summer's Maccabiah, at which teams from England, Australia, the United States, Canada, Chile and South Africa - the reigning Maccabiah champion - will participate.Entrance to tomorrow's game is free and at half-time there will be a raffle with prizes.
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