Thomas Berman. Rugby Israel’s Swiss Knife

Thomas Berman will play number 6 of the Central team in the upcoming regional tournament, but this young flank from South Africa is a Swiss knife for Israeli rugby. Doing more or less… everything. Berman plays for Tel Aviv Heat, for Hadarim, will be part of the Central team in the regional tournament, and in a few months will complete his naturalization process and pull on his Israel jersey. Thomas and Nazir Gasanov are the first of about 10-12 “pathway” players expected to achieve Israel eligibility. But Berman’s commitment to Israeli rugby is beyond strengthening our national team. Alongside a hi-tech sector job he is technical manager of Hadarim – and coaches all the way from U12 to the senior team. And results are there to be seen. Berman led Hadarim to victory in the first two 10-a-side tournaments in the war effected season.

“Thomas is a tremendous asset to Israeli rugby. I’ve known him since he was young – an excellent player who was even invited to Craven Week and excelled in the Maccabi games. He has also been coaching since the age of 17. Very committed. It’s an honor for me to work with him and mentor him as a player and coach,” says Kevin Musikanth, himself originally from South Africa and Technical Director of Rugby Israel.


Life changed for Thomas in one phone call about 8 years ago. “I was then playing at King Edward’s high School, ‘Kez’, where my father was an excellent cricketer back in the day. He even played provincial alongside Jonty Rhodes. Kevin Musikanth, who coached one of our rivals – Saint John’s, called me. He was gathering Jewish players for the Maccabi South Africa team. Judaism was very present in our family. Much of my family was very religious and we celebrated all the holidays and had Shabbat dinners. If I missed Shabbat, it was usually because of sports. And suddenly, it all came together.'”

So how was the Maccabiah? Sources speak  about parties, nice girls…?

“It was amazing. Everything. The team I was part of. The hotel we stayed in. It was by the beach. Yes, even the parties though I was a little hesitant to drink because I was very focused on rugby. We won gold in the sevens and silver in the fifteens. Four years later, it was the opposite – gold in the fifteens and silver in the sevens.”

And then?

I came back to school. Went on to study and play at Wits (Witwatersand University). I played for three season and during that time Kevin invited me to coach the forwards at the ‘King David’ jewish school. Later he told me he was setting up a pro team in Tel Aviv.”

Big question… why is South Africa so damn good?

״Its beyond sports culture. Rugby is a way of life for a whole country. At every rugby camp you see hundreds of kids trying out for positions. At the Afrikaner schools you see kids playing contact at 6,7,8.”

You know, this has two sides. This depth can cause guys to lose hope. To think they have no chance. When did you realize you wouldn’t be a Springbok?

“I guess around the age of 18 or 19… I’m not exaggerating. At 16, I was at the provincial trials for the Lions. So you go into a tackles with a few players and you realize…. big surprise…. (laughs).”

Who are the best players you played against? What makes them stand out from the masses?

״I played against Hacjivah (Dayimani, black Jewish player considered Springboks potential) and Tyrone Green who is with Harlequins. One of the things in South Africa is the support system. You have to be spotted young, if they identify you from a young age, then you have all the conditions for success. Coaches, medical support, fitness trainers. But it’s very important to be identified. If you don’t get a contract out of school, it will be very difficult for you afterwards.”

What is your coaching style… I hope not boring South African stuff… (laugh)

“No, no. See, we have Fijians on the team, so they bring with them the open style and offloads. It also suits the atmosphere. Look, it’s been very, very fulfilling. We don’t have a lot of youth players 14 to 18 at the club. But we have many at ages 10 and 12. Seeing them implementing things. It’s not like South Africa where kids also have private coaches. Here, you’re teaching kids who weren’t exposed to rugby. It’s very, very satisfying.”

An Israeli born player you like?

“Gur Levy”

World player?

“Now Dion Fourie. Used to be Richie McCaw”

After game?

“Cold beer”