A Golden Finale

July 23, 2009 by J-Wire Staff
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Australia’s 2009 Maccabiah Games campaign has ended on a huge high with the Open Rugby team defeating Great Britain 19-16 in a thrilling gold medal match…shown live on national television.

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This is the first time Australia has won Gold in rugby and the first time they have played in a Final since 1985.

The magnitude of the achievement, which will go down as one of the more memorable in Australia’s Maccabiah history, became evident at the final whistle as hundreds of passionate supporters joined a side, which was locked arm in arm, in celebrating the win with a spine tingling rendition of ‘Advance Australia Fair.’

The bumper crowd of passionate Aussies in the Herzliya stadium easily outnumbered their British counterparts in support of a team that had captured the imagination of all who have come to follow Australia during the games in Israel.

Ranked as outsiders going into the tournament behind the Brits and South Africa, the colourful 26 strong squad along with coach Andrew Hendry, hard working managers Ben Einfeld and Zelman Nissen and physio Jeremy Benko was galvanised from the moment they landed in Israel.

They inspired not only themselves but the entire Australian camp with their respect for both one another and the rest of the Aussie team along with a passionate desire to achieve their goal.

Captain Alex Lehrer, who led his team brilliantly both on the field – with a string of sublime performances – and off it with his calm demenour, says the win was 4 years in the making.

“I remember sitting in the changerooms after beating Canada in the 5th-6th playoff at the last Maccabiah and thinking something needs to change if we wanted to turn things around.”

“So we re-formed the Maccabi Rugby Club and it has improved every year. We have been training incredibly hard.”

As tight knit as any team could want to be, Lehrer says it was that support of one another that was the crucial difference between them and the other nations.

“The camararderie was the main factor. We were an incredibly close group of boys. We are a group of very dedicated individuals. Our heart got us over the line.”

“It’s really unbelievable, I honestly never thought we’d get here.”

Fly-half Steve Cohen, who was simply magnificent scoring the crucial try of the match and kicking accurately under enormous pressure says having their pool draw changed to the group of death only weeks before the games also had a huge impact on the teams success.

“Our attidude was that if you want to be the best you have to beat the best, and we did,” he said.

The early stages of the match were very cagey as the Aussies tried to get their running game going which had served them so well in the wins over Israel and South Africa.

But while the Brits were managing to nullify the backline’s dash they were giving up too many penalties in dangerous territory.

With his confidence sky high after a superb kicking display against Israel, Cohen landed two shots at goal early to give his side a 6-nil lead.

Not content with merely kicking his side ahead, Cohen then gave Australia the early initiative in the contest with some quick thinking.

The Sydneysider was first to react to a loose ball from a scrum near the British line, bringing home the opening try which he duly converted to give Australia a 13-nil buffer.

Up against an experienced British front row, the Aussie pack was simply remarkable in the first half, driving on the scrum to help their side win control of the ball as the half wore on.

Both sides landed penalties as the first period drew to a close with the Australians going in 16-3 leaders.

Tensions boiled over in the second half with a huge melee breaking out as the Brits tried to use aggression to get themselves back into the contest.

A drop goal and a penalty then had GB within a converted try from drawing level and Australia needed to alter the momentum of the match to avoid being overrun.

And just like he did against Israel, Jarred Shein was the man to win a penalty when Australia was up against it after being held attempting a chip and charge.

Cohen stood up to once again convert the chance and give the Aussies back a 12 point break.

The Brits weren’t done with yet though, constantly pressuring the Aussie defence which refused to tire in their pursuit of gold.

Lehrer made a desperate tackle on the British flyhalf who had broken free and had a winger out wide with a free run to the tryline, preventing a certain 5 pointer to inch Australia closer to the win.

The pressure eventually told though and Great Britian were able to get over the line with 2 minutes to go for a try that was converted, ensuring it would be an excrutiating wait for the final whistle.

But when Cohen took the ball from under his heroic forward pack and heaved it high into the stands, the feeling of anxiety was quickly transformed into jubilation for both players and fans who were able to celebrate the perfect end to the 18th Maccabiah.

from the Maccabiah media team


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