Ahead of Saturday's Final we spoke to Pete Sickle, CEO of the Tel Aviv Heat, to see how the franchise is helping rugby develop in the country.
It has been quite a year and a half or so for the Tel-Aviv Heat since they began playing in the Rugby Europe Super Cup.
In 2021/22 the team representing Israel made it to the semi-final stage and, in 2022/23, the have gone one better and will be playing in the final against holders Black Lion in the Avchala Stadium in Tbilisi, Georgia, on Saturday.
One man who has been part of the journey since the beginning is co-founder and CEO Pete Sickle.
“The Tel-Aviv Heat is, in many ways, an example of how Israel - as the ‘Start-up Nation’ - combines vision and entrepreneurship to maximize opportunities to create value,” he said.
“Gratefully, Rugby Europe gave us the opportunity to build a rugby team from scratch to compete alongside sides from unions who compete in the Rugby World Cup.
“We have been continually surprised at the calibre of professional players choosing the play for the Heat, the passionate support we have received from rugby fans in Israel and around the world, and the interest we have attracted from a range of partners.“Making the semi-final in our first season and the final in our second validate our team culture of combining elite, high performance rugby on the pitch and a rich life experience off of it.
“And playing Saracens at the StoneX last month [and winning] serves as tangible proof that the Heat can bring value to even the strongest rugby clubs.“Looking forward, we are excited about the opportunities that are ahead to continue to grow our community of supporters and strengthen our brand on a global level.”
The culture that has been created at the Heat is very impressive and it is clear that the club is one big family and everyone is on the same level and striving for the same goals from the players and support staff to Pete and others at boardroom level.
“From the very beginning we have focused on living up to the core rugby values of solidarity, passion, integrity, discipline and respect. Beyond these, we wanted to create a team that lots of people wanted to play for built around trust, meeting challenges and the freedom to express oneself,” Pete explains.
“When I talk with players one-on-one, they emphasise how unique the Tel-Aviv Heat culture is within professional rugby. They understand that as a start-up, we don’t have the luxury of extensive support staff and luxury facilities.
“In return, they know they are joining a family and that they are encouraged to enjoy one another and the life experiences that come with living in Israel and playing in the Super Cup.
“Everyone brings their own unique perspectives and experiences and, together, they create a fantastic environment to play great rugby and give their all without succumbing to the ‘grind’ that characterises too many professional clubs.
”The final at the weekend promises to be a cracker between two sides who never know when they are beaten.
“Obviously we are ‘all in’,” Pete said ahead of the big match.
“After losing to Black Lion twice in season one, in season two so far we have beaten them at home in October and then were a bit unlucky to walk away with a draw when we played them in Kutaisi in September.
“On the back of four [Conference] matches between the two teams in just over a year, we feel we know their strengths and weaknesses pretty well.
“It will be a hard, physical match but we like our chances based on our most recent performances.”
And how does Pete feel the success and growth of the Heat can help rugby more generally in Israel?
He said: “We continue to dream big. Our long-term vision is to elevate the level of rugby in Israel so that one day the country will qualify for Rugby World Cups and Olympic Games.
“A few years ago this may have seemed like an impossible dream, but the success we’ve already had in the Super Cup with the Heat shows how much can be accomplished in a very short time.
“Of course, we need to grow the game at the grassroots and community levels and look forward to working with multiple partners in Israel to leverage the Heat’s profile and success to introduce rugby into schools, to develop skills and rugby IQ for players and coaches at the club level and hopefully develop a robust academy system to develop local talent and to attract elite players from around the world to make Israel their home.”
By Gary Heatly