x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Lebanon win West Asia Sevens with help from the league

Team hopes win will entice players to switch codes to union.

Lebanon won the tournament held at The Sevens. Satish Kumar / The National
Lebanon won the tournament held at The Sevens. Satish Kumar / The National

DUBAI // Lebanon's sevens players hope winning the inaugural West Asia Sevens title will help union challenge the monopoly of rugby league in their homeland.

The 13-man code enjoys a greater profile there due to the success of the Lebanese national team, who have played at the World Cup and are ranked 14th in the world.

However, the rival formats can complement each other, too. The sevens squad who were victorious in Dubai this weekend included a number of league players, and between them they proved too strong for the other developing nations in the competition.

"It can only be a good thing because people always want to be involved with a winning team," said Karim Jammal, the Lebanon captain.

"If they see that we have been winning they are more likely to want to play. Rugby league is the bigger game in Lebanon because we have played in World Cup qualifiers, so on a global scale it is bigger.

"But this will definitely kick things off. Once we go back and it is written about in newspapers, I'm sure kids will be keen to start getting involved."

The Lebanese were comfortably the best team in the first West Asia event, bringing their greater experience to bear over the emerging Emirati national team in a two-leg final.

"We have gelled well, bearing in mind we have players from Saudi, Dubai, Lebanon and England, and they have all paid to come here themselves as well," said Steve Wrigglesworth, their coach.

The Lebanese were not the only ones hoping their performance in Dubai this weekend will boost the promotion of the sport back at home.

Saudi Arabia finished third after winning their play-off against UAE Shaheen. Despite having a lengthy history among the western expatriate workforce in the Kingdom, the game remains little known among Saudi nationals.

The tour party in Dubai, a number of whom are drawn from the fully-Arab Riyadh Warriors club, want to help popularise the sport among their compatriots.

"We are hoping this third-place finish will encourage the government and sponsors to take us seriously," said Abood Khumayes, the Saudi back.

"We need more facilities, more equipment, and to introduce the game into universities and schools, and to turn it into a national sport, because it isn't at the moment. Probably 70 per cent of people would not even know what rugby is."

pradley@thenational.ae

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