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Our View: Moufflons success down to ‘courage and determination’

WITH the Cyprus international rugby side extending its own world record to 20 consecutive wins by easily beating Slovenia recently, the question being asked is how can such a small country produce such an impressive side?

The team that beat Slovenia included two non-Cypriots that qualify by residency.

Domestic rugby was established by a mixture of British expats and returning South African Cypriots, but any number of current internationals learned the game here on the island or when attending schools in the UK. Although veteran South African Cypriots, the Thoma brothers and George Agathocleous remain the iron in the heart of the mighty Moufflons, affectionately named after the horned sheep indigenous to the island’s mountainous regions and a national symbol.

The Cyprus rugby players don’t just beat their opponents, they bury them: the last time the Moufflons played against Greece they beat them by 70 points, and the same winning margin against Finland.

The Bulgarians, meanwhile, were thrashed by a margin of 50 points.

To put this into perspective, many of Cyprus’ opponents, particularly the former Soviet countries, have been playing the game for decades.

The Cyprus side has been playing the game internationally since 2007. They have been promoted each successive season and have never lost a European Cup Division game in five years.

This week, team manager Theo Lenos said the Moufflons “have achieved more than any other Cypriot team in the sporting history of our island.”

When Cyprus took on Slovenia last December, the game was billed by the governing body of European Rugby as an eliminator to enter the playoffs for the 2015 World Cup in England. So, when the Moufflons won 49-8 it was assumed that they would enter the playoffs – where they could measure their rapid progress by facing some of the giants of the European game. But a petty dispute with the International Rugby Board over membership criteria saw Cyprus replaced by Slovenia, who went on to lose to a team from a lower division.

The furore that followed gave rise to a press outcry to restore the Moufflons, but the IRB wouldn’t budge.

One thing is for certain though. Our players swept all before them without any help from the Cyprus Sports Federation (KOA).

Before the economic crisis fully hit, the Greek side had an annual budget of 300,000 euros, plus expenses – ten times the amount afforded to the Moufflons.

To add insult to injury, Cyprus’ players have had to cover all their expenses of four away games for a squad of 32 travelling to such outposts as Azerbaijan and Finland.

It is simply not right that an international player should be dishing out his own money for the honour of playing for his country. One cannot imagine a footballer dipping into his well-lined pockets to do the same.

So, how has a team of amateurs, drawn from a pool of less than 90 players, deprived of resources, in a football-fixated and divided island achieved so much?

According to Loucas Pattihis, former President of the Cyprus Rugby Federation, it’s by using “good old-fashioned class, courage and determination.”

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