Israeli rugby is beginning to rise in international stature, and yesterday Peter de Villiers, coach of the South African national rugby team, and Oregan Hoskins, president of the South African Rugby Union arrived in the country for a week-long visit. Yesterday de Villiers met with the Israeli national team players preparing for Saturday's crucial international against Austria at the Wingate Institute stadium (kick-off 3 P.M., entrance free ). The coach of the world champions Springboks conducted a training session on the rugby field at Kibbutz Jezreel, which was followed by a traditional South African-style braai (barbecue ).
If Israel, which qualified for the 2C division of the Nations Cup at the beginning of this season and currently ranks 71st in the world, wins on Saturday, it will leap to the top of the division prior to the upcoming games in Scandinavia against Denmark on May 7 and Norway on May 14. In its last game Israel defeated Hungary 23-14 in November - its 12th consecutive victory - and now needs only three more wins to equal rugby's longest all-time winning streak of 15 games by Lithuania.
But Israeli rugby's greatest achievement this season was made off the field, when the Israel Olympic Committee decided to actively back the seven-a-side game as a preferred team sport ahead of the game's introduction to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero in 2016. In June the national seven's side will compete in a European international tournament in Poland, and in July in a second tourney in Germany. Last season the national seven-a-side team ranked a record 16th in Europe.
The Israeli women's team, which is ranked 21st in Europe, will also compete in the European Seven-a-Side Championships in Latvia in July.
The national youth team is meanwhile preparing for the European Under-18 Championships in Georgia later this month.