By Alexander McCowan
When George Agathocleous, the Cyprus veteran back, enters the arena in Paphos tomorrow to play the final game of this season against Hungary (3pm), he will surely reflect on the incredible journey he and his team-mates have made since that game seven years ago when they embarked on their international rugby career in a friendly on a rented playing field in Paphos against Greece, in shirts borrowed from a local taverna.
Anyone witnessing that dishevelled crew in their ill-fitting attire who stunned the condescending visitors into silence with a 30-point win, would never have imagined that the Moufflons would now be on the brink of their third successive promotion in Europe to division 2B and about to break their own world record of 22 consecutive international wins.
The Hungary game is crucial as it is the culmination of the two-year Division 2C campaign with Cyprus winning all their games so far. The Magyars have proved to be their most difficult opponents with no other team causing them so much trouble.
According to Paul Shanks, the national coach, it could have gone either way with the Moufflons winning by the narrowest margin of one point in Hungary.
The Hungarians are coached by Raphael St. Andre, the brother of the French coach. “He is extremely astute and will play a very tactical game. They have a big pack, and that, combined with their skilful backs, could bother the best of teams,” said Shanks
The Cypriots are missing some key players through injury and unavailability but Shanks claims that “if we can implement and stick to our game plan I am quietly confident, but I guarantee it will be an exciting game.”
Rick Wadmore, team manager, told the Cyprus Mail that in his opinion, “the most significant aspect of this game is that we are actually able to field a side at all, given our financial constraints.”
The sentiment was echoed by Shanks, when he said: “This is a very young squad with two new caps, and these young players have had to sacrifice so much, either giving up work or study, and paying their own expenses or finding personal sponsors for the honour of playing for Cyprus. I, for one, am deeply proud to be associated with young men of this calibre.”
Federation president Laurence Vasilliades added: “It has been a long and arduous journey. We are continually building and that is reflected in the youth of this team. We have now implemented our youth and academy policy and I can foresee a time when all our players will have learned the game in Cyprus.”
Wadmore agreed, saying: “We are building for the future which is reflected by the fact that we have four players in the side from the Under-2O’s squad that will be performing in Prague in August.
“Whatever happens, the Hungary clash will be our toughest game to date. Paul has brought a side that is well prepared and they will acquit themselves with honour.”