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Old 10-06-2010, 11:05 AM
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Post Another international win for Kingdom rugby team

Another international win for Kingdom rugby team

Player of the tournament Ahmed El Obeid, left, captain Omar Alireza and top try scorer Omar Istanbouli, right.
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Published: Jun 9, 2010 21:51 Updated: Jun 9, 2010 22:28

JEDDAH: For the second time in three months, we won! British International School of Jeddah (BISJ) were crowned champions last week as Lebanon hosted the first Middle East North Africa Under-14 Rugby League Nines in Bhamdoun.

The two-day competition, held in the lush Bhamdoun stadium, involved seven schools and three nations. Tripoli City RLFC, Zeheriyeh Boys High School and Balamand High School represented Lebanon; BISJ, American International School in Jeddah (AISJ) and Jeddah Prep and Grammar School (JPGS) played for the Kingdom and Al Jalil UNRWA School flew Palestine’s colors.

BISJ’s victory came on the heels of the Saudi Camels Under-16 rugby team that lifted the Middle East North Africa Under-16 championship trophy in March.

The win vindicates the determination of both the players and coaches to develop rugby in schools in Saudi Arabia and once and for all shatters the image of it being an expatriate only game. The Kingdom can now justifiably claim to be the pacesetter in the region for schools rugby and look forward to developing the game as part of the country’s sports portfolio.
"It’s remarkable how much progress has been made in just over 2 years, 3 tours of Lebanon and one to Qatar. Over 250 boys have played the game here in Jeddah alone,” said Chris Ratcliffe, head of PE at JPGS and Saudi Select coach.

JPGS beat Balamand 16-14 in the opening game and, as the competition wore on, BISJ, JPGS and Al Jalil showed their class and it looked likely the champion would emerge from this trio.

AISJ quickly became the neutral’s favorite by showing that size does not matter in rugby league, continually cutting down their bigger opponents in a brave all-round display led by captain Omar Billeh, Yong Min Park and Abdulrahman Sharbatly.

Watched by United Nations officials, who are supporting the development of Palestinian rugby league, Al Jalil UNRWA School, drawn from one of Beirut’s Palestinian refugee camps, became the hot favorites behind a rock solid defense, which was rarely breached. It conceded just 16 points during their six first-round games.

It took the very last of the 21 group games before the makeup of the final four became clear. Up to that point, AISJ, Balamand High School and Tripoli City U16s were all locked on equal points and it was the underdogs, Saudi’s AISJ that squeezed through to join their fellow Saudis and the Palestinian boys in the semifinals.

BISJ topped the table after the round robin of games with scrum half Ahmed El Obeid calling the shots and, ably assisted by Omar Alireza and Omar Istanbouli, their 4-4 draw with Al Jalil was the only point they dropped. JPGS finished second with 5 wins from 6 games, their only defeat coming at the hands of Jeddah rivals BISJ.

In the first semifinal, with the majority of the ball, despite all the efforts of full back Mohammed 'Ce Ce' Manaa (who was the most dynamic player in the competition), captain Luca Mulfari and Waleed Mufti for JPGS were just unable to get over the try line as the Palestinian’s defence remained strong and 2 breakaway tries led to a 10-0 victory and got revenge for JPGS's previous 4-0 victory in the group stages.

In the second encounter, AISJ characteristically kept on punching above their weight but this time their massive hearts were not quite enough to overcome and they went down fighting to BISJ 6–0.

The final was an exciting affair with Al Jalil UNRWA School taking first blood when Samir El Soury scored out wide. After a great tussle in the middle of the field he crossed for his second and it seemed game over.

But by missing both conversions and leading only 8–0, BISJ was always in with a chance. Omar Istanbouli crashed through to give his team hope and with the conversion unsuccessful, the Palestinians only had to control the ball with time running out. This was a red rag to a bull who emerged in the form of BISJ’s Ahmed El Obeid, voted player of the tournament. His charge took him over the line to level the score and a cool headed Omar Alireza proceeded to kick his team into the lead for the first time with just 60 seconds to go to the final whistle and ultimate victory and the MENA U14s 9s crown.

The tournament and its victory for BISJ and Saudi rugby ended with a note of sadness. Chris Ratcliffe, one of the central pillars in the development of schools rugby, is to leave for Kuwait soon. He was generous in his reflections on the contributions made by fellow coaches and trainers.

“A lot of work has gone on in all three Jeddah schools,” he said. “Dave Kinkead has made BISJ the school to beat this year, Shaun Nichols at AISJ has worked hard at making AISJ very competitive with a lot of young talent coming through.”

He noted that at JPGS Wayne Stewart, David Martin and Chris Stander had all worked hard with him to make Rugby League the number one participation sport in JPGS.

“Unfortunately I have to leave all this behind and hope that I can now introduce the sport to Kuwait next year so I can plot to take the crown off the Saudi boys and keep spreading the game around the Middle East!"
Not, however if the three Jeddah participants have their way. Kuwait will have to work hard for it but with Ratcliffe at the helm, they will surely rise to be worthy opponents and up for the challenge.

Tournament director Remond Safi was ebullient after the final match. “The foundations are set for many events in the future which will see the game spread across the Middle East attracting new countries, schools and teams. It was such a great atmosphere seeing so many kids running around the pitch with different languages but all speaking the common language of Rugby League."

BISJ team: Omar Alireza (captain), Omar Istanbouli, Ahmed El Obeid, Yousef Safadi, Badr Al Banawi, Salman Al Sulieman, Hakeem Al Moukhtar, Rayan Mahfoudi, Amr El Hussieni, Karim Baassiri, Rami Howell, Abdullah Kabbani, Adam El Zein and Omar Alfadl
"The duty of a member of this chamber is not to pander to what is popular
but to uphold what is right..." -RR

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