A cool overcast afternoon at Loftus Versveld welcomed the Tel Aviv Heat in what promised to be an enthralling game of rugby between two sides littered with talent and a point to prove. The Loftus 200 side, a mix of the top club rugby talent from around Pretoria got a chance to test their abilities against the Israeli men that boasted an incredible mix of youth and experience.
Heat’s flyhalf Marc Morrison got the game underway. An early error from the Heat for tackling the jumper in the air at kickoff gave Loftus 200 the chance to set up a lineout deep inside the Heat’s half. A long lineout throw over the back from the 200’s captain and hooker Sidney Tobias gave their big inside centre a chance to test the Heat’s defense early, putting them under some intense pressure early on which lead to an offside penalty going the way of Loftus 200, Tobias turned down the chance for points on the board and opted for touch.
It turned out to be the right decision as a well-set rolling maul turned out too strong for the Heat’s defense and it was Tobias that went over inside the 3-minute mark, 200’s flyhalf Hendrik Muller missed the conversion from the right hand touchline. Loftus 200 drew first blood, 5 - 0.
The first half then showed glimpses of brilliance from both sides as momentum swayed back and forth, most of the possession was shared between the two sides with neither gaining ascendensy against the other, it wasn’t until the 13th minute that sustained pressure deep inside the Heat’s red zone from Loftus 200 that finally broke down the Heat’s defense through a well worked lineout move as Tobias threw a long ball over the top to his inside centre Johan Grobler who crashed through the first tackle to offload brilliantly to his lock JP Alberts who crossed the chalk. Muller converted his first of the match to give the 200 a 12 - 0 lead.
It was the Heat who then turned it on with a good break from blindside flanker Peter Driegard which put them on the front foot, the Heat were rewarded with a penalty, captain Renaldo Bothma opted to take the three points on offer as his side got on the board through their left winger and kicker Courtney Wiernaar, 12 - 3 Loftus 200 lead by 9.
The Heat began to grow into the game as they strung longer phases of possession together however too many unforced errors halted their progress and gave Loftus 200 the chance to maintain their strong hold. 32 minutes into the first half against the run of play the Heat seized an opportunity given to them by the 200 and a good chip over the gainline into space by Morrison allowed them to regather and after some good hands and interplay between backs and forwards lead to a long ball thrown wide by Morrison which found his lock Graham Knoop out of position but the Heat didn’t mind as Knoop went over in the corner, Morrison’s kick hit the uprights taking the score to 12 - 8 Loftus still in the lead.
The latter half of the first half saw the game begin to open up as both teams found weaknesses in the opposition's defense. The first half was highlighted by moments of great attacking rugby but both sides should’ve had more points on the board as the half ended 12 - 8.
It seems hard words were said in the Heat’s change room as they came out in an attacking mood right from kickoff as they controlled all the possession in the opening minutes. Good hands and sustained pressure allowed the Heat to gain the upper hand as they won a penalty 7 meters from the 200’s tryline. Captain Bothma decided to tap and go himself crashing his way over the whitewash resulting in his side’s second of the evening, Wiernaar converted giving the Heat the lead for the first time in the match 15 -12.
The tempo of the game increased from both sides as the coaches made a few substitutions early on, the Heat’s lead however only lasted 5 minutes as the 200 found themselves inches from the Heat’s line after a lengthy period of phase play, it was a quick break from the ruck by the 200’s fullback Gaybrin Smith that resulted in the 200 taking the lead back, his flyhalf Muller converted the try, Loftus 200 lead by 4 points once more, 19 - 15.
Momentum shifted back to the men from Pretoria as the half progressed, a poor 50 - 22 attempt by the Heat’s fullback Sebastian Jobb secured a lineout for Loftus just inside the opposition half where a scrappy lineout ball fell to their scrumhalf Pattrick Hattingh, he showed his silky foot work as he danced his way through two would be tacklers and drew the last man to find his 2 meter lock on his outside shoulder JP Alberts who ran in the try from 20 meters out, the conversion was successful again as Muller ensured all 7 points on offer were taken giving his side some breathing space once more, 26 points to 15 with 25 minutes to play.
The game embed a flowed from here on but it was the Loftus 200 side that sparked it into life again as their flyhalf Hendrik Muller made a clean break to then allow his side to build phases inside the heat’s half, it was the Heat’s outside centre Gabriel Ibitoye who saw an opportunity against the run of play with an intercept Jean De Villiers would be proud of, Ibitoye had a simple pass to make to his right winger former Blue Bulls junior player Xolisa Guma who finished it off next to the poles, Wiernaar converted bringing the Heat back to within 4 points, 26 - 22.
The theme throughout the game of back and forth continued as 50/50 decisions could’ve gone either way, Loftus 200 won a penalty inside the Heat’s half and chose to put the ball into touch, the Heat’s defense of the rolling maul was too good as they won a penalty to release the pressure. Intensity began to drop as both sets of teams began to tire. With 8 minutes to play and the game as close as it had been throughout, it was the Loftus 200 side that found the extra inch within their forward pack as they built phases within the red zone of the Heat, replacement hooker for 200, Maliwe Shimanga picked up from the base of a ruck 2 meters out to dive over as it seemed this would be the moment in the game that decided the result. Replacement fullback number 21 Tony Janjties converted to give Loftus 200 a 11-point lead with 6 minutes to go, 33 - 22.
The Heat wouldn’t lie down as they fought back late through a dominant scrum 5 meters out which resulted in them being awarded a penalty try, taking the score to within 4 points once more 33 - 29 with 2 minutes left and all to play for. It was edge of the seat rugby as both teams fought for the victory.
It was not meant to be for the men from Israel as they ended their tour of South Africa with a nail-biting loss. The momentum of the match bounced back and forth between both sides with the true spirit of rugby being on display throughout the hard-fought encounter. The Heat will reflect on this loss with a lot of positives to have come out of their tour as they prepare for a Semi Final show down back home in Israel.
Loftus 200: (33)
Tries: Sidney Tobias (1), JP Alberts (2), Gaybrin Smith (1), Maliwe Shimanga (1)
Conversions: Hendrik Muller (3/4), Tony Jantjies (1/1)
Tel Aviv Heat: (29)
Tries: Graham Knoop (1), Renaldo Bothma (1), Xolisa Guma (1), Penalty Try
Conversions: Courtney Wiernaar (2/2)
Penalties: Courtney Wiernaar (1)