GRFU’s National Squad started their 2018/19 season with an away trip to Israel, with the match taking place at the Wingate Institute of sport, North of Tel Aviv on 3rd October. In spite of a long journey, the squad gathered in good spirits, with 11 of the 22 players based outside Gibraltar joining later on the 2nd October.
Having beaten Israel in Gibraltar, and having watched Israel’s latest match (a home loss against Malta), there was confidence that another win was on the cards. However, Israel had appointed a new coach and, having asked agreement to field a 29 man squad in preparation for their official match next week, Gibraltar faced a very different proposition to what had been prepared for. Our 11 Gibraltar based players were facing only their second competitive match of the season, and there were five changes from the side that had taken the field against UAE in April.
Israel’s initial kick off was not gathered cleanly and untidy play resulted in an Israeli scrum where a penalty was conceded, duly converted to give the home side a 3rd minute lead of 3-0. The following kick off was successfully disrupted by Gibraltar, who were awarded a 40 metre penalty successfully converted by Chuqui Cruz to level the score in the 5th minute.
Israel started applying pressure from their kick off, and Gibraltar were again penalised in the 9th minute, with a successful kick giving the home side a 6-3 lead. Gibraltar were unable to adapt to the referee’s interpretation of the breakdown law and the scrums in particular. This was to result in a much higher penalty count against Gibraltar than has been the case in previous Internationals.
The Gibraltar scrum was applying continuous pressure to Israel, with Chris Lugnani in particular dominating a succession of opposing props, and it was disappointing that a disrupted scrum saw flanker Mike Milward yellow carded in the 18th minute. Reduced to 14 men, Gibraltar endured wave after wave of Israeli attacks, none of which was able to break the resolute defence.
Once Gibraltar were restored to 15 men, and in the knowledge that they had not conceded any points, they were finally able to secure possession and begin to play. Two separate sets of possesion that went beyond five phases saw Gibraltar stretch the Israeli defence and able to work debutant Jamie Stone over for a try in the 33rd minute. Chuqui Cruz’s conversion gave Gibraltar a 6-10 lead.
Unsurprisingly, Israel again laid siege to the Gibraltar try line, with the same unsuccessful result. A kickable penalty in the last couple of minutes was turned down by Israel, aiming for a 5 metre line out. The kick was badly executed, going dead, and Gibraltar were grateful for the drop out and were able to successfully see out the half.
The second half saw a re-energised Israel concentrating on their strengths, the catch and drive from the lineout, which Gibraltar were unable to deal with. Substitute hooker Luke Payas was controversially yellow carded for collapsing a maul, with the referee also awarding a penalty try for the offence in the 50th minute, giving Israel a 13-10 lead.
Again, Israel were unable to convert their numerical advantage into points, and heroic defence for the 10 minute sin bin saw the scoreboard unchanged. Gibraltar again started to try to get their normal flowing game going, but this was to be a strangely disjointed performance, with a succession of mistakes and wrong decisions combining to negate the efforts made by the Gibraltar XV. This increasing frustration led to an interception by Israel in the 69th minute, giving them a 20-10 lead.
Most of the last 10 minutes saw Gibraltar try to apply pressure, without tangible results. Finally, an aggressive Gibraltar scrum, followed by good support play and a number of phases again resulted in a Jamie Stone try in the 40th minute, again converted by Chuqui Cruz for the final 20-17 score.
GRFU are also grateful that Minister Albert Isola was able bring a small delegation from the GibDay events in Tel Aviv to come and watch the game, adding to our travelling supporters (Bernard Stone and Charlie and Simon Cruz). Support, particularly in away games makes a massive difference and is hugely appreciated by the players.
The Gibraltar squad were:
1. Nick Ramagge
2. Oscar Cruz
3. Chris Lugnani (Captain)
4. Mark Waller
5. Mike Massey
6. James Savignon
7. Mike Milward
8. Xavi Bottino
9. Jack Milton
10. Chuqi Cruz
11. Jonny Reyes
12. Elliot Stone (debut)
13. Matthew Isola
14. Jamie Stone (debut)
15. Harvey Armstrong
16. Luke Payas
17. Will Collin
18. Joey Galloway
19. Matt Jones (debut)
20. Aidan Beazley
21. Tom Lovelace
22. Sam Julian (debut)
Coaches – Dave Barley, Lee Forty, Team Manager – Dan Collin, Physio – Joyce Evans
2018/19 was always going to be a difficult season for GRFU. For the National Squad in particular, being unable to play any Home Internationals this year means that it is going to be hard to keep the momentum that is required to be competitive. Regardless of individual abilities, it is only by playing together regularly that good players make a good team. Even with the generous support of the Gibraltar Government and the GRFU sponsors generally, and tour sponsors Rockolo (a Gibtelecom Group Company) and Patricia Darch Interior Design & Projects in particular, away games are still expensive for our players.
While we are still working on at least one more International this year, this is not enough to maintain the momentum that has been building over the last six years. While we are also grateful for Government’s and MOD’s assistance in making DOC available, it also means that we will be playing our domestic league effectively behind closed doors. This is understandable as we play in a military base, but it also means we lose the support and casual interest that was beginning to grow in our local league.
Much work is being done behind the scenes, and we are proud of the fact that the Israel match saw four new players being capped. The future is bright, with work with youngsters being done, and a magnificent new facility coming available next season at Europa Point. To finally have a home for Rugby in Gibraltar will no doubt push our sport on towards the next level, whilst further showing the powers that be at World Rugby and Rugby Europe that we deserve to be taken seriously. As for this season, we are sure that the passion and commitment of our players, technical staff, officials, supporters, volunteers, sponsors and well-wishers will see us through.