Gibson 3, Bracek, Blackwood
Salem 3, Samia, Ndaira, Moujali, Kourouche, Saab, El-Zbaideh
Harris 2/4, Briers 1/1
2008 RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD CUP REPECHAGE
Lebanon surged to a famous victory against Wales at Halton Stadium, Widnes, ensuring a play-off berth against Samoa and avenging their 24-22 loss in the 2000 World Cup – the last time Lebanon tasted defeat. Trailing 16-10 at half-time and 20-10 in the second half, Lebanon began to click in the last 30 minutes, running rampant to notch up another 40 points to leave the final score 50-26. In doing so, they extended their unbeaten streak to 13 matches, surpassing Chris Anderson’s 1999-2001 Australians’ tally of 12, and moving to within two of Frank Stanton’s eighties record holders. More importantly, Lebanon moved to within one win of a second successive world cup finals appearance as they made a mockery of Wales’ pre-match favourites tag.
Lock Chris Salem, replacing the embarked Hassan Saleh as captain, had an outstanding game, scoring a hat-trick and sparking the revival, while George Nadeira bagged a brace and secured yet another man-of-the-match performance. He was a constant menace in the middle of the park and threatened whenever he was given any space. Frank Samia and Adham El-Zbaideh also both looked dangerous on the pitch and used the extra space afforded by the Halton’s maximum 68-metre width and their speed to secure a try each.
The game began with Wales in the ascendancy, and a still jittery Lebanon making errors and suffering from a series of penalties awarded by French referee Thierry Alibert. Wales scored early on their right flank after a smart kick from Lee Briers early in the tackle count found their winger, Gibson, who rounded the defence to plant it in at the corner. Briers then put over Andy Bracek with a precision pass to see Wales sail into an early 10 point lead.
Lebanon’s crack centre Frank Samia, who understudies Kangaroos duo Matt Cooper and Mark Gasnier at St George Illawarra, restored some hope to Lebanon with a try on 19 minutes, beating his man with a devastating in-and-away swerve, converted by fullback Toufic Nicholas to leave the score 10-6. However, Lebanon’s revival was short lived as Gibson went in for his second and Iestyn Harris converted to push Wales into a 16-6 lead. Chris Salem gave Lebanon renewed hope just minutes before the half-time break as he dummied the Welsh defence to dive in for a crucial try from 30-metres out. Although Nicholas’s conversion just missed, Lebanon went in at the break 16-10 down but with momentum on their side.
Wales started the second half strongly, as Gibson earned his hat-trick 3 minutes in, but Lebanon were not to be denied. The next 22 minutes turned the game on its head with five tries by the Cedars. George Ndaira fed Salem for his second, and then raced over to score himself. Nicholas’s conversion meant Lebanon had now taken the lead for the first time, 22-20. Then front row Ray Moujali forced his way over just before the hour to further Lebanon’s lead.
This spurt seemed to break Welsh spirits and their defence wilted giving up numerous offside penalties and leaving inviting gaps in their line. Lebanon capitalised on that, with expansive and penetrative handling, dissecting the defence and allowing Ali Kourouche to go in, before Salem notched his hat-trick.
A shaken Wales attempted to stem the tide when wing Anthony Blackwood earned the Welsh side another 6 points after going over, with Briers converting. However, this was not enough to slow the rampant Cedars, with inspirational back rower Chris Saab and winger Adham El-Zbaideh both scoring before the full-time horn sounded. Nicholas’s final kick tally was 7 from 9.
Samoa won a convincing 42-10 victory over the USA prior to the Lebanon-Wales match, meaning they will face Lebanon in the play-off for the 10th and last place in the 2008 World Cup, Australia; which is to be held on Wednesday 14th November in Featherstone, Yorkshire. Samoa fielded a strong side including Nigel Vagana and a coterie of former New Zealand Test stars and should prove to be a stern adversary for the Cedars in what promises to be another classic match.
Dave Halley, Damien Gibson, Luke Dyer, Adam Hughes, Anthony Blackwood, Iestyn Harris, Lee Briers, Craig Kopczak, Ian Webster, Jordan James, Matt James, Rob Roberts, Phil Joseph. Subs: Sean Penkywicz, Mark Roberts, Gareth Dean, Andy Bracek
Toufic Nicholas, Adham El-Zbaideh, Adnan Saleh, Tom Youssef, Frank Samia, Anthony Farah, George Ndaira, Ray Moujalli, Jamie Clark, Khaled Deeb, Phillip Takchi, Chris Saab, Chris Salem. Subs: Ali Kourouche, Robin Hachache, Danny Chiha, John Koborsi