By Alexander McCowan
WHEN Wynne Gray, the rugby correspondent for New Zealand’s Hawkes Bay Today newspaper eulogised last weekend over the All Blacks’ successful European tour which took the world champions’ winning streak to 14 games, he conceded that there was some way to go in order to beat the world record of 20 straight wins held by another island state: Cyprus.
When the Moufflons are mentioned favourably, in the same paragraph as New Zealand, it is an indication of how far Cyprus has come in rugby terms.
On Saturday, Cyprus face Austria at the Paphiacos Stadium at 2pm without their iconic captain Tony Thoma who is sidelined through injury.
They will also be missing other first-team regulars who have not been released by their clubs or are cup-tied, but are nevertheless quietly confident of giving the Austrians a tough game.
The last time they met, the Moufflons strode away with a 54-20 win, on the Austrians’ home turf, but it could be a tougher game this afternoon with the home side fielding two new caps in addition to the three blooded in their last game against Slovenia at the beginning of the month.
It is rumoured that Austria has a new coach and judging by their 58-14 thrashing of Bulgaria in October, progress has been made.
Paul Shanks, the long-serving Cyprus coach, who takes nothing for granted, gathered his squad for training in Tala this week and gave notice that they would be facing a very different side to that encountered last year.
Shanks believes that preparation, motivation, fitness and discipline are the keys to a winning side, but with five inexperienced players, he cannot afford to be complacent.
“I have some fast, young legs, but games are won in the pack; if the scrum doesn’t deliver, we could struggle,” he said.
“However, my players give a hundred per cent and are totally committed to winning. They have the winning habit, and it will take a very good side to beat them.”
Theo Lenos, team manager added: “Everyone is talking about our world record and if we continue our winning ways we will probably establish a target at the end of the season that will prove very difficult to beat. But make no mistake, we take each game as it comes and are not distracted by records. Our success is derived from teamwork which arises from commitment and belief in each other. We are 15 players trying to help each other to score. It’s a powerful formula.”
The Moufflons are certainly on a roll at the moment. This year, one of their players, Chris Dicomides, was voted best Welsh League player and selected to play for the Barbarians.
It has recently been announced he will move from Pontypridd to Cardiff next season.
Next year, Cyprus has been invited to participate in the European under-20s tournament that could see them matched against the very best that Europe has to offer.
Saturday’s game will be broadcast live by LTV, while the AFP news agency will record a documentary on-site.
Match tickets cost a modest five euros, with children under 12 getting in free.