Italy and Lebanon women’s teams will play an historic two-match series for their own version of the Mediterranean Cup. The first game will be in Jounieh, Lebanon, on 25 February, with the Azzurri hosting the return leg on 5 May.
Both countries’ women’s programmes are relatively new and the initiative represents the latest example of healthy cooperation between the Federazione Italiana Rugby League and the Lebanese Rugby League Federation.
“Developing the women's programme has not been an easy task in a country where sports in general is not really professionally respected, but the importance of that journey was the struggle,” said Lebanon women’s coach Ghassan Dandash, who is also a Director of Jounieh RLFC, whose women’s side - the Hummingbirds - played in the first match in the country against AUB, last year. “After five years of trial and error and after two of consistent development, the women's side of the game is now up and running with multiple teams playing and it was only natural to create the opportunity for these young athletes to represent their country in an international match, the highest pinnacle,” he added.
The Junipers are drawn from university rugby league programmes in the American University of Beirut and Lebanese American University; two rugby league clubs, Jounieh and Lycans; as well as Jamhour school, which is relatively new to rugby league and is running a women’s and youth programme only.
“It is difficult to play an extremely demanding sport like rugby League and build an efficient team for a Test in a short period of time,” continued Dandash. “But we are at one with our players in their resolve and we have come a long way in training.”
FIRL vice president and joint-coach of the Italian women’s side, Tiziano Francini, noted: “This is a tremendous moment for the Italian rugby League movement, the first female international matches in our history against our friends from Lebanon. We started with women’s rugby League in November and can now call on 100 woman players across three regions. This is planned to be the first step to setting up a women’s domestic championship.”
LEBANON JUNIPERS TRAIN-ON SQUAD
Rania Abdallah, Carla Badawi, Kelly Bardawil, Mariam Dakka, Sarah Kannan, Loubna Sasso (AUB) Maria Zahar, Maria Antoun, Tara el Khazen, Melanie Haddad, Sacha Missir, Michele Nader, Joelle Saadeh (Jamhour), Lynn Acra, Mia Daoud, Reem Dahdouli, Elsa Gharious, Nadine Kibbi, Mia Kesserwani, Marina Keyrouz, Terese Keyrouz, Douha Knio, Sarah Menassa, Nada Mufarrij, Karen Roukoz, Nayla Saniour (Jounieh) Charline Azar (LAU), Sarah Awad, Youmna Bebery, Elyssa Boulos, Mayssa Hallak, Camila Hamzeh, Miriam Hattem, Maria Moubarak (Orcas)
ITALY WOMEN SQUAD
Virginia Pinarello, Silvia Capello, Chiara Gubernale, Viviana Forgiarini, Giorgia Pratelli, Anna Barro (Comitato Nord-est), Valentina Virgili, Marika Ascione, Benedetta Pina, Simona Gazzera, Silvia Gai, Elisa Salvatore (Comitato Nord-ovest), Marina Gueli, Giuliana Zaffarana, Ludovica Gurrieri, Oliwia Di Martino, Irma Sanna Passino, Eugenia Indaco (Comitato Sud)