By Alexander McCowan
WHEN Cyprus national rugby coach Paul Shanks arrives in Sofia for Saturday’s European Rugby Cup group 2C game against Bulgaria (2.30pm), he will expect his players to concentrate on registering what should be a simple win by employing the basics: controlling the scrums and lines, maintaining discipline, keeping tight defences, remembering training ground moves, and hopefully staying free from injury.
Shanks is an old-style coach who, being a former hooker, demands dominance from the scrum which will be controlled by his captain, veteran, Tony Thoma.
Shanks’ insistence on a good attacking platform from the back of the pack has enabled his back-row to link with the best attacking backline in the league and crush the opposition with a barrage of tries.
The last time the Moufflons met Bulgaria they won by a massive margin: 95-4.
“That last score means nothing to me,” said Shanks. “It’s easy to let that go to your head, which leads to complacency.
“I’ll be happy with a clear win and a bonus point. The team are at the end of the season but in good shape. There are one or two new caps that need to get the feel of international rugby, which is a whole different ball game, in every sense.”
The Moufflons are two games away from promotion, and should they claim the expected victory in Sofia, will once again extend the world record for consecutive international wins to 22 games.
Team manager, Rick Wadmore, puts the case succinctly: “We have already creamed this division and are ready for promotion, but I wonder if they are ready for us?”
He continued: “No other country in Europe has achieved as much as we have in the last five years. These players have suffered so many setbacks that had nothing to do with their playing ability.
“We missed out on the World Cup through a technicality, we were denied entry to the Commonwealth Games because of another, the Cyprus Sports Federation gave us peanuts when they had millions to distribute, and now that they have nothing I wonder what we can expect?
“We now need our players to buy their own international kit and to make a greater contribution to their travelling expenses. I can’t imagine footballers doing that. But we will keep winning and bring honour to Cyprus.”
The Moufflons will observe a one minute’s silence before the game in memory of the veteran referee and mainstay of the game in Cyprus, Keith Elliott, who is greatly missed.
After Bulgaria, the Moufflons’ next game will be the final match of the season against Hungary at the Paphiacos Stadium on May 17.