Georgian side Black Lion won a six-try thriller in Tbilisi to become back-to-back Rugby Europe Super Cup champions.
An energetic opening exchange saw both sides turn over attacking ball, before Black Lion stand-off Luka Matkava slotted the game’s first points from a penalty for not rolling away.
Two minutes later, Black Lion were set to score a sensational try, swiftly passing through several sets of hands, only for flanker Sandro Mamamtavrishvili to see the ball illegally knocked out of his grasp as he was about to dot down. The penalty try awarded gave Black Lion a 10-0 lead and a yellow card to Tel Aviv Heat winger Niall Saunders for his troubles.
An outstanding start got even better for the Georgian defending champions when centre Demur Tapladze took advantage of a scrambling Heat defence to calmly finish a passage of play sparked by Niko Aptsiauri’s bulldozing run. Matkava could not add the extras but with a 15-point lead after fewer minutes on the clock, the Black Lion were roaring in Tbilisi.
Tel Aviv Heat made their first foray into Lion territory after 18 minutes and got themselves on the scoreboard with a penalty goal from stand-off Jordan Chait, for Black Lion not rolling away in the tackle, after multiple phase probes failed to pierce the Georgian defence.
Black Lion were soon back in the ascendancy and found themselves camped in the Heat 22, opting to scrum at each of a flurry of penalties awarded by referee Paulo Duarte for various transgressions. Still, they could not quite find a third try and then came arguably the game’s most notable moment.
Black Lion centre Merab Sharikadze appeared to headbutt an opposition player in full view of the cameras but after consultation, referee Duarte decided against any punishment. Confusion reigned in both camps at a moment that might well have delivered a red card and with it, a chance for parity in the match.
Both sides struggled thereafter for consistent ball, with Black Lion gleefully scrummaging as at every opportunity as the game became more broken and stop-start.
And then, on the stroke of half-time, Black Lion struck once more, wing Mirian Modebadze racing over in the right-hand corner to finish possession that began with a marvellous take in the air from full-back Lasha Khmaladze. Matkava nailed his touchline conversion and Black Lion went into the interval with a commanding 22-3 lead.
HALF-TIME: BLACK LION 22-3 TEL AVIV HEAT
The Georgian outfit came flying out of the second half blocks, the impressive Matkava selling a beautiful dummy to the Heat defence and gliding over, converting his own try to extend the lead to 26 points at 29-3.
The gulf may have been ultimately too vast, but Heat hauled themselves back into some form of contention through two well-taken, quickfire tries.
Jurie van Vuuren grabbed his side’s first try after being put in by scrum-half Bradley Thain. before wing Peceli Nacebe somehow emerged from a line-out rolling maul with Heat’s second try, both converted by Jordan Chait.
At 29-17, Heat sensed an opportunity to put further pressure on the hosts but a combination of knock-ons and a rallying of Black Heat, from which they should have added a fifth try, saw the Georgians over the line to record victory and celebrate the successful defence of their Rugby Europe Super Cup title.
FULL-TIME: BLACK LION 29-17 TEL AVIV HEAT
Black Lion winning captain, Merab Sharikadze, said: “I think we deserved it, first half we were winning by a big score, second half they played very well but still we won by 12 points and it’s always amazing to win a final. I’m very proud of the boys and very proud of my country.”
Black Lion head coach, Levan Maisashvili, added: “We started the game very well, with two early tries and also in the second half we dominated. After, the boys relaxed and it cost us points so well done to Tel Aviv to stay in the game and it was one of the interesting finals.”
By Stuart MacLennan
Photos Irakli Tkemaladze