By Alexander McCowan
Cyprus entered the European Sevens Cup in Lithuania knowing that a number of factors had changed.
After their phenomenal success in the 15-a-side game in Europe, finishing the season undefeated and extending the world record of international winning games to 23, the Moufflons were promoted into division 2B which contains some big boys and they were about to meet some of them in the Baltic country of Lithuania.
Sevens is an extremely fast game, played on a full-size pitch with seven players each playing for seven minutes each half with a minute break. None but the fiendishly fit can compete.
Last year the Cypriots finished fifth in Warsaw, winning the plate competition by beating Germany. This year the financial constraints that are ever present for the national side were biting, and the Cypriots had to be content with being housed in a youth hostel instead of the luxury of an hotel where the rest of their opponents were staying.
But perhaps this separation inspired the team, because they gave the best performance by a Cypriot side in the history of the European Sevens Tournament.
Cyprus was placed in Pool A along with Israel, Monaco and Sweden.
First game, the Cypriots are matched with Israel, the country that headed Division 2B this year and were promoted into 2A. Cyprus won 28-17.
Next up, an old adversary, Monaco – they were dispatched 28-5.
The battle for top spot was between Cyprus and Sweden, one of the big sides. The Scandinavians lost 14-12.
On the second day, Cyprus faced a President’s select side in the first round and blew them away 31-0.
The win qualified Cyprus for the semi-final where they would meet host nation Lithuania.
The home crowd proved to be a determining factor, giving huge support to the hosts and they were rewarded in the final few seconds when Lithuania scored a try to win 15-7.
The two losing semi-finalists have to play off for third position, and this saw Cyprus once again matched against Sweden.
Tiredness was a feature of this game with both sides carrying heavy legs. With less than a minute to go, and the score 10-10, Marcus Holden popped it over the posts to seal a 12-10 win for Cyprus.
In the final Lithuania beat Poland 22-17. (Cyprus beat Poland last year in Warsaw)
It would be unfair to pick out an individual in such a superb team effort but it would be churlish to overlook the magnificent contribution by Yiannis Loizia and Holden.
This the best performance by a Cypriot team in a European Sevens competition, and when one examines their limited resources in manpower and finance, it is little short of remarkable.