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Georgia's Black Lion claim second Super Cup title with victory over Tel Aviv Heat

By Tom Vinicombe
Merab Sharikadze.(Photo by Levan Verdzeuli/Getty Images)

The Black Lion have defended their Super Cup crown with a 29-17 victory over the Tel Aviv Heat in Tbilisi over the weekend.

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The Black Lion claimed the inaugural Super Cup title in May, besting Portugal’s Lusitanos, and have now reinforced their claim as one of the top tier-two clubs sides in Europe with an impressive win in the Georgian capital.

Saturday’s final marked the third time this season that the Black Lion and the Tel Aviv Heat have faced off, with their first meeting in September ending in a 25-all draw and the Heat grabbing a six-point victory a month later in Petah Tikva.

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As the top two qualifiers out of the Eastern Conference, both the Black Lion and the Heat progressed through to the competition’s semi-finals where they matched up with the top two sides from the west. The Black Lion recorded a comfortable 41-9 victory over Spain’s Castilla y Leon Iberians, the second-placed side from the Western Conference, while the Heat upset the Lusitanos 33-20 in Lisbon.

Following their two tightly-fought tussles earlier in the season, the Black Lion raced out of the blocks on Saturday to command a 22-3 lead going into the break off the back of tries to midfielder Demur Tapladze and winger Mirian Modebadze, as well as a penalty try from the opening minutes of the fixture.

No 10 Luka Matkava dotted down moments after the break, handing Tel Aviv a sizeable mountain to climb if they were to harbour any hopes of preventing the Black Lion from defending their title.

While the Israeli franchise buckled down to score two tries to round out the match, it wasn’t enough to cancel out the deficit and the Black Lion triumphed by 12 points and retained their crown.

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“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,” said Black Lion captain Merab Sharikadze after the game. “I’m very proud of the boys and very proud of my country.”

Levan Maisashvili, head coach of both the Black Lion and the Georgian national team, also emphasised the importance of the strong start: “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.”

The Super Cup is expected to grow to 10 teams next year – although the identity of any new franchises is very much up in the air.

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Georgia, Spain, Portugal, Russia, Belgium, Israel and the Netherlands were all represented in the inaugural season, with Romania and an additional Georgia side based in Batumi added to the competition in place of the two Russian sides for 2022.

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Germany and Poland both feature in the Rugby Europe Championship – Europe’s second-tier competition behind the Six Nations – and are plausible nations for expansion, while the likes of Spain and Portugal could potentially each host a second franchise.

For the moment, however, the Black Lion will celebrate another successful season, with hopes that EPCR could potentially award the winners of the Super Cup with a spot in next year’s European Challenge Cup.

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