By Phil Caplan, RLEF

Lebanon broke Saudi Arabia’s stranglehold on youth rugby league following Amir-el-Fakhr el dine’s victory in this weekend’s MENA U14 Schools 9s competition.

Having been placed third in 2010, the Tripoli outfit – who were one of the pioneers of youth rugby league in the Eastern Mediterranean country three years ago – defeated American International School of Jeddah 10-0 in the final to end the Gulf kingdom’s 100 per cent record in the region’s international tournaments.

Saudi School Select won the MENA U16 Championship in 2010 and 2011, while the British International School of Jeddah claimed last year’s U14 9s.

Amir el Fakhr el dine coach Rayan Tout, a sports teacher and Lebanon U16s assistant coach, said: “I didn’t expect us to go all the way; it was a tough competition this year as the standard and quality of players has increased since last year. It was great to see that we had two teams from Lebanon in the finals. We have worked hard in our preparations and we see the rewards of our hard work with winning the North Lebanon Schools championship in the U14s age bracket and now the MENA U14s 9s. I look forward to next year so we can defend our title.”

AISJ also showed great improvement, recovering from their last place finish in 2010. They came through a torrid semi final against Zeheriyeh Boys School from Tripoli, winning 6-4. Archie Frame said: “Our boys have trained very hard this year and having reached the final unbeaten they were obviously disappointed to lose, however it was a very competitive game and played with great spirit and enthusiasm from both teams. Our boys performed well above expectations and we are very proud of their achievements to be going home to Jeddah with the runner’s up Trophy. I am sure all the boys who took part will benefit immensely from this experience. It was a great tournament.”

The final saw tournament top scorers Omar Marhaba and Omar Billeh go head to head. Amir-el-Fakhr el dine marked Billeh tightly, allowing Marhaba, arguably Lebanon’s best youth prospect and already a Junior Cedar at 14-years-old, to score both tries and seal victory.

The RLEF MENA department has already received expressions of interest from Kuwait and Bahrain for the 2012 season, demonstrating the increasing spread of the sport in the region. Remond Safi, MENA Regional Director, haled yet another successful international competition. “It was great to see that everyone enjoyed themselves. The standards amongst all the teams was noticeably up on the field from last year, I look forward to next year’s event where we hope to have new comers from the Gulf and new local schools in Beirut attending, as well as the more established schools.”

Following the group stages, the final table read:

Team Points
1 American Int. School of Jedah 12
2 Britiah Int. School Jedah A 10
3 Amer Fakhr Dine 6
4 Ziehrieh Boys School 6
5 British Int. School Jedah B 4
6 Namouzaj 2
7 British Int. School Al Khobar 0


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