France and Lebanon got their campaigns underway at the Canberra Stadium as a French side consisting mainly of professional Catalans Dragons players took on the enthusiastic Lebanese amateurs.
France were slight favourites to secure an opening win to give themselves a chance in a tough group Group A where both sides would still have to take on Australia and England. But the Lebanon side were full of experience and not to be underestimated.
Today’s winners were likely to make the quarter final, the losers almost certainly wouldn’t.
It was a bright start for Lebanon who took the game to France. When they forced an error on seven minutes, Lebanon used three tackles before a backhanded pass from Mitch Moses found Anthony Layoun to score in the corner. Moses added the conversion from wide for a 6-0 lead.
On fifteen minutes France opened their account when Bastien Ader managed to ground the ball in the right corner before being hauled into touch. William Barthau failed to convert from the touchline leaving his side two points behind.
Four minutes later and Barthau kicked a penalty goal to level the scores and it looked like the game was set for a real arm wrestle.
Seconds before the break Lebanon struck a critical blow when Travis Robinson found Michael Lichaa to go in from close. Moses added the extras and his side went into the sheds with a 12-6 lead.
Ader got his second of the game on fifty-one when he was on hand to take high kick tap back from Bergal and round the defence to reach out and score one handed. Barthau added the two from the touchline for 12-12.
On sixty-two minutes Adam Doueihi rose to take a high kick, stepped past the last tackler and went over under the sticks for a four pointer for Lebanon. Mosses added the extra two and re-established the six point lead.
Five minutes later and Damien Cardace was the beneficiary of a three on one overlap to cross unopposed. Barthau added a great conversion to again square the scores at 18-18.
A seventy-third minute forty metre Mitchell Moses drop goal edged Lebanon into a one point lead and left France chasing the game.
Moses sealed the win on seventy-five when he collected his own chip up the centre of the field to rot net the French defence and run the last two metres and score under the sticks. He converted himself for a seven point lead to give Lebanon their first ever World Cup victory.
Travis Robinson scored Lebanon’s sixth try, and his second, in the dying seconds and despite Moses missing the conversion he’d sealed a 29-18 win.
There was a lot to admire about Brad Fittler’s Lebanon side who looked robust in defence and who had their fair share of flair in attack. France were in this competitive game up until the last five minutes when Mitch Moses became their torturer with a good drop goal and a brilliant solo try.
France will now have an uphill struggle to make the quarter finals, requiring a win over either Australia or England, and Lebanon will be confident that it will be they who make the quarters.
France: Maria, Yaha, Bergal, Pelissier, Kheirallah, Ader (2T), Cardace (T), Fages, Barthau (3G), Bosquet, Garcia, Julien, Baitieri. Subs: Margaret, Albert, Boyer, Djalout.
Lebanon: Layoun (T), Mannah, Moses (T, 4G, DG), Elias, Eliaz, Kassis, Farah, Miski, Robinson (2T), Wehbe, Kazzi, Mamary, Seve-Derby’s. Subs: Lichaa (T), Doueihi (T), Twal, Sukkar.
Referee: Gerard Sutton.