Israel face Lithuania with 'nothing to lose'

(RUGBYWORLDCUP.COM) Friday 22 May 2009
Israel face Lithuania with 'nothing to lose'
After beating Slovenia, Israel now face Lithuania in Europe's Round 2 play-off in World Cup qualifying

Israel host Lithuania in Netanya at the weekend already on the crest of a wave having achieved their finest ever result, a 26-19 win against higher-ranked Slovenia in Europe's Rugby World Cup qualifying Round 1 play-off.

Lithuania enter the match as firm favourites. Ranked 42 in the world, they lie 35 places above the Israelis and have won both of their previous matches home and away, 60-7 and 53-0 in Rugby World Cup 2007 qualifying back in October 2004.

However, Israel are on a high after their previous match which will forever hold the distinction of being the first live televised rugby game in Israel's history.

"It was great, people were jumping like madmen and hugging each other, the crowd went crazy," said coach Raanan Penn.

"When it really mattered and when we got the exposure we really wanted, we got the result we needed as well."

In the ensuing two week period Penn and his team have for once been the darlings of the local media. With coverage from all the major newspapers, sports websites and radio stations, the exposure and success has also ensured that this weekend's match against the Lithuanians will be shown on television.

"We've had more coverage and interest in these few days than in the whole of the history of rugby in Israel," said Penn.

"It's up to us to capitalise on this exposure, to pull more kids into the game, to pull sponsors into the game - it's not enough just to be covered in the media, we need to use it well."

Penn knows that his side are massive underdogs to beat Lithuania and progress any further, but he insists that the whole experience this season has helped him and his players grow. He is also more than happy to acknowledge that their opponents are expected to win.

"We are in a win-win situation. We'll go in fighting but I think that they are the ones under pressure.

"I think we go into this game with much more confidence and pride, and we also go into it with a feeling that we've got nothing to lose.

"If they lose it will be a very bad result for them. It's going to be a much harder game. They haven't lost for something like 21 months, but they're not the All Blacks, they're not the Springboks or Georgia, they're Lithuania.

"They're a stronger team than us, but it's possible."

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