Georgian side win inaugural competition – but what does the future hold? Francisco Isaac reports
Black Lion win Rugby Europe Super Cup
The first season of the Rugby Europe Super Cup has come and gone, initiating a new era for emerging European nations and giving the Spanish, Portuguese, Georgian, Dutch, Israeli and Belgian unions a taste of professional (or at least semi-pro) level.
It has certainly had its challenges – launching in a Covid-affected climate and the conflict in Ukraine resulting in the suspension of the two Russian teams – but we can expect further improvements in year two.
So who won the trophy in its inaugural season and what does the future look like?
Black Lion win Rugby Europe Super Cup
In the grand finale, Black Lion were crowned champions after beating Lusitanos 17-14 in extreme heat at the CAR Jamor ground in Lisbon.
For the opening 40 minutes, both sides traded blows, but it was the Georgians who took the first points thanks to their maul – a weapon put to work well since day one of the competition. Lusitanos replied with a try (an excellent team move finished by Manuel C Pinto) and a penalty to take the lead into half-time.
The few moments of brilliance spiced up a closequarters match, dominated by (almost) unbreakable defenses, with Black Lion getting a slight advantage at the breakdown.
During the second half it seemed Lusitanos came out more refreshed, applying good pressure and slotting another penalty, taking control of the game flow until the visitors started to climb in physicality, overpowering and pushing the Portuguese franchise backwards, which would ultimately mean a change of tide.
A well-oiled Georgian pack usually results in points when they are just a few metres away from the whitewash and that came to fruition when the clock was nearing the last quarter of the game: thundering scrum, advantage, successful pick-and-go and Tengiz Peranidze pulling a dummy to score Black Lion’s second try of the final.
From that point on, Lusitanos could only muster three more points as the home side found it difficult to breach Levan Maisashvili’s excellent defensive strategy, while a Giorgi Babunashvili kick gave Black Lion an advantage on the scoreboard.
The referee’s final whistle drew to a close the last Super Cup game of the season, crowning Black Lion as the first-ever champions of this tournament’s maiden year, making it two from two for the Georgians in 2022, as they also conquered the Rugby Europe Championship.
As for the impact of the competition on Georgian rugby, head coach Maisashvili said: “As this was the first time we played as a franchise team, it was very important to win the tournament, and I think this will be a good memory and experience for our boys.”
An elated Merab Sharikadze was holding the Super Cup firmly in his hands, bearing a beaming smile, as he said: “The people were expecting us to win, and I’m pretty sure our country is proud of what we did today.”
What next for the Rugby Europe Super Cup?
After 27 matches across a fierce pool stage and a heated semi-final round, was it all just another rugby competition? Not for these franchises, staff, players and fans. Instead, it revealed a promising new world of opportunities and possibilities.
It seems to have been widely recognised that the franchises were able to produce a higher competition level, bridging the gap between local club rugby and the national team, while development thrives with a stronger calendar, keeping the rugby and sports community engaged throughout the year.
Old and new rivalries are thriving, players are developing faster and the unions have a new product to sell to sponsors who are seeking broader recognition.
There is still plenty of scope to develop the tournament, with two new teams being mooted. We will have to see how this develops, but we hear of possibilities of Romanian involvement.
Beyond the quality clashes and the loud cheers coming from the stands, patience will be the Super Cup’s most challenging hurdle, not only due to economic pressure to succeed (unions will have to add the professionalisation costs to their budget), but also to be able to build a competent project.
The Super Cup might go to sleep on the field until September, but the competition itself left a deep mark (yes, a life cliché) and everybody who followed this colourful physical and technical ‘parade’ in this debut year of the competition, is already waiting for it to restart all over again.
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