Lebanon got off to a winning start in the European Cup on Saturday night, defeating a hardy but ultimately overwhelmed Italy, 86-0 in Tripoli in the north of the country.
The Cedars ran in 15 tries in total on a balmy night in a match refereed by Theirry Alibert, full back Adnan Saleh scoring four but he was outshone by man of the match Reece Robinson.
The former Brisbane Broncos first grade centre notched a hat-trick and set up two more for his twin brother and wing partner, Travis while being at the heart of the home side’s destructive attack.
Lebanon Coach John Elias fielded all five domestic quota players in his 17-man squad, with USJ utility Wael Harb bagging a brace and Jounieh prop Youssef El Helou also touching down.
Local favourite Robin Hachache took the ball in solidly all night to the delight of the enthusiastic crowd while half back pairing Liam Ayoub and skipper George Ndeira formed a fine combination not least with their clever kicking games.
“It was a very gratifying for me to watch the domestic players,” remarked Elias. “I got a thrill out of seeing them perform and grow amongst the team in training and then produce on game day.”
“As a whole, we worked well as a team. I’ve been involved in many situations where a team asserts their authority early in the game and then lose their composure but I thought we held our structure for the full 80 minutes.”
Reece Robinson set up the opening score after barely 90 seconds, his break and superb off load sending his brother Travis to the posts.
He was again the instigator of the second, expansive play across the line seeing him bring the ball back inside and to within ten metres before releasing loose forward Ahmad Ellaz for the touchdown.
Italy showed some great resolve on their own try line attempting to stem the tide, with skipper Marco Ferrazzano working overtime and producing a number of last gasp efforts but the visitors were unlucky when the ball went to ground as the Cedars again looked to ship it wide, Saleh picking up and dodging over.
The Azzurri established some territory in the Lebanese quarter but were again undone by pace and ball movement, centre Danny Chiha uncovering an overlap and sending his winger Josh Mansour on a 70 metre dash for glory.
Reece Robinson gained his reward when squeezing in at the corner for the fifth try after showing some outstanding footwork and Saleh claimed his second when again the hardworking Italian defence on their own line ran out of numbers and he stepped back on the inside.
Jamie Clark extended the lead, John Koborsi driving the ball in and offloading to Ndeira whose flick back on the inside sent his hooker over, Ndeira’s conversion – one of 12 – bringing up the half century.
Ndeira’s long pass, despite going to ground, was swooped on by Reece Robison who was given a clear run to the line and Ayoub and Ndeira worked their midfield magic for Saleh to link on a fine angled run for his hat trick score from 40 metres out.
Ayoub’s clever chip uncovered Reece Robinson for his hat trick as he looped back to the posts and the crowd were on their feet when local favourite Harb powered on to the ball on half way, angled out to the wing where he went round the cover, handed off full back Edoardo Lerna and completed a remarkable solo effort.
In the closing minutes, Travis Robison drew two defenders and sent Harb through the last remnants of cover for the 15th try, Clark converting.
There was greater structure to their attack, a tougher defence in the middle and a good kick chase in another spirited performance.
Their effort drew praise from experienced Lebanon coach Elias. “Watching the game from the grandstand, some of Italy‘s defence was very physical” he said.
“It’s always going to be hard for a team to come together at short notice; new players don’t know each other so they did themselves credit.”
His focus, after his nation’s third highest victory, now turns to the group decider in Glasgow next week.
“We have to train towards the conditions. We are anticipating a windy, cold day and a heavy pitch. The bonding in the squad is super, so I don’t have much to change on that front.”
1. Adnan Saleh
2. Travis Robinson
3. Reece Robinson
4. Danny Chiha
5. Josh Mansour
6. Liam Ayoub
7. George Ndeira (C)
8. Robin Hachache
9. Jamie Clark
10. Khaled Deeb
11. John Koborsi
12. Steve Azzi
13. Ahmad Ellaz
14. Wael Harb
15. Ghassan Dandach
16. Youssef El Helou
17. Jad Hachem
Tries: T. Robinson 2, Ellaz, Saleh 4, Mansour, R. Robinson 3, Clark, Harb 2, El Helou
Goals: Ndeira 12, Clark
1. Edoardo Lerna
2. Paul Stanica
3. Andrea Tagliavento
4. Dean Vicelich
5. Filippo Veronese
6. Pierluigi Gentile
7. John Grasso
8. Jason Dubas-Fisher
9. Angela Ricci
10. Greg Brincat
11. Matthew Sands
12. Marco Ferrazzano (C)
13. Ludovico Torregiani
14. Robert Di-Leva
15. Tiziano Franchini
16. Shane Pavan
17. Fabio Di Pietro