Israel promoted from Euro Nations group
Two English-based players were instrumental in helping Israel earn promotion from their European Nations Cup group.
Captain Nimrod Kaplan, who plays for London Scottish and Matan Brosh of Barnes helped Israel run in six tries in a 39-0 win against a Greece side coached by France legend Olivier Magne.
Number eight Kaplan ran in two tries, with number three Brosh scoring once, as Israel moved into the fifth tier out of seven for European rugby-playing nations outside of the Six Nations.
Describing the achievement of reaching Group 3B, achieved with two games to spare, Kaplan said: "The way we played was like a dream. It was a perfect win against a strong Greece team and it happened because we gave everything we could."
The atmosphere at the game, which was screened live on television and took place at the Wingate Institute in Netanya, was described as "incredible" by Brosh. "We've progressed a lot recently. That's nine wins in 10, which is unprecedented form. To play in front of the cameras and with 1,500 people making such a noise was fantastic," said the 29-year-old security specialist, who lives in Golders Green.
"I didn't get to sleep until 6.30am the night before the match because of the sheer excitement".
Coach Raanan Penn, who has overseen the team's transformation since taking charge two years ago, believes this could mark a pivotal moment in the country's rugby development: "We are growing in size and confidence and probably have 25 guys who could play semi-professional rugby abroad. We are still trying to create a semi-professional club so we can expand the sport at home," said the 32-year-old whose interest in the game came from his South African born parents and led to him winning 20 caps for Israel.
Israel have claimed six wins in the competition with Greece, Luxembourg, Bulgaria and Finland their scalps. Penn said: "We have 600 registered players but the number will increase and we have a good batch of youth-level players that will develop over the next few years. If a player is really talented we can defer his army service and send him to play abroad."
He is also happy to pick from the Diaspora after being impressed by players from Australia, South Africa, Great Britain and the USA at last summer's Maccabiah. "We can certainly offer prospective rugby-playing Olim a good playing infrastructure and also a community off the pitch," said Penn, who is also coach of the country's dominant club, ASA Tel Aviv.