From between the 13th – 18th of April the Lebanese Rugby Union federation hosted the West Asian Rugby Championships at Fouad Chehab Stadium, Jounieh. During the tournament the Lebanese National Rugby team convincingly defeated the national teams of the Kingdom of Jordan and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Lebanon’s National Rugby Team known as the Phoenix, the national bird of Lebanon was made up of players from with the Lebanon and heritage players from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada, the Gulf States and even as far away as Australia.
Bilal El Batoury, an Australian born half Lebanese player travelled to Lebanon at his own expense to participate in the team. Bilil’s outstanding performances during Lebanon’s impressive victories against both Jordan and Iran were highly regarded not only by his teammates but also the large crowds in attendance.
John Abi-Saab, the Phoenix manager and Director of International Rugby also travelled to Lebanon to assist in the co-ordination of the team and the organisation and implementation of the tournament.
Lebanon’s first match against Jordan on Tuesday 14th April in front of an estimated crowd of five hundred spectators started out as an aggressive physical contest with the much younger and less experienced Jordanian boys taking the game to the Phoenix yet experienced team play and obvious individual talent across the entirety of the Phoenix squad saw the Lebanese team run away with a very convincing win 71 points to 3.
On Thursday 16th of April, Jordan played the second match of the tournament against the much more highly fancied Iranian team. The Iranian’s convincingly defeated the Jordanians 49 points to 3 to set up a impressive contest in the Final against the Phoenix.
The Final of the West Asian Rugby Championship saw the Lebanese Phoenix take on the team from Iran. Iran, who was physically quite large, had been two divisions higher than the Lebanese team in the preceding years. The match would be a great indicator for the Lebanese team to determine their current level of ability.
It was obvious from the outset that the Phoenix was the stronger team across the field shutting down much of the Iranian attack. Lebanon through the golden boot of Captain, Karim Jammal took an early lead through converted penalties. The Lebanese boys then began to show their dominance by scoring some impressive tries against their physically demanding opposition. Eventually, the Phoenix rose to victory defeating the Iranians 27 points to 8 claiming the West Asian Rugby Championship title in front of a crowd of almost one thousand cheering and enthusiastic Lebanese fans.
The tournament was a great boost for the Lebanese Rugby Union federation who led by their Chairman, Mr Abdallah Ali Jammal are working hard to spread the love of rugby throughout Lebanon and throughout the expansive Lebanese expatriate community and to fulfil its vision of a Lebanon in Union. The expansion into the Lebanese Expatriate community is being demonstrated through the development of the Australian Lebanese Hawkers Rugby Union Football Club by Mousbah Arja and John Abi-Saab.
The Australian Lebanese players will represent Lebanon as the Lebanese Phoenix Select XV at a new tournament, the Crescent Cup in Malaysia from between the 1st to the 14th of June. This tournament will consist of very strong opposition from Africa, the Middle East and Central and South East Asia. This team is made up totally of Australian born Lebanese players who predominately play rugby in Australia. This tournament will be an opportunity for the Australian Lebanese boys to demonstrate their talent and press for a position in the Lebanese National Rugby Team.
The Australian Lebanese Hawkers Rugby Union Football Club will play a trial match against the Hunters Hill Rugby Club at Baronia Park, Hunters Hill on Tuesday 5th May at 7pm. This will be an opportunity for the players to be selected for the Phoenix squad to travel to Malaysia in June.