By Alexander McCowan
When the Australian national rugby team drew with the New Zealand world champions at home in the Four Nations Tournament last Saturday they prevented them from challenging the mighty Cypriot Moufflons for their world record of 23 consecutive winning games.
There was much speculation in the Antipodean sporting press whether New Zealand on 17 would cream the southern competition, held between Argentina, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, and automatically garner the world record with a possible 25 consecutive international wins. However, thanks to the Aussies, Cyprus will start their new season in European Division 2B safe in the knowledge that the All Blacks have to start all over again while the Moufflons will kick off with a home game against Andorra in November.
Securing their record wasn’t the only reason for celebration last week. The Cyprus Rugby Federation announced the appointment of their new national coach to replace Paul Shanks who is standing down from coaching the national team and undertaking the role of Director of Rugby. Shanks, a former hooker, and British Army coach, took over when the national team barely had enough money to provide the team with a spare set of kit.
Financially, little has changed, but on the field of play the name of Cyprus has echoed around the rugby world. The Australian, New Zealand and South African press have all speculated on the development of rugby in such a small country and the disappointment that arose from the failure of the International Rugby Board to honour their promise to let Cyprus participate in the play-offs for the World Cup. However, while this would have crowned coach Shanks career, it was not to be, but he can retire knowing that his protégées have triumphed through five years campaigning in Europe, been promoted through three consecutive divisions, obtained a world record and secured the respect of all they have encountered. Bravo Paul Shanks.
The new coach, Phil Llewellyn, was chosen after an exhausting selection process and will arrive in time to take over his duties for the Andorran game. He will have familiarized himself with the substantial and growing group of overseas Cypriot players that now clamour to wear the national colours. Llewellyn comes to Cyprus with an impressive coaching pedigree. Based in Somerset, a hotbed of English rugby, he has coaching experience that spans English Colleges, clubs, academies, schools. A level 3 coach he has tutored male and female sides – current under 19’s England women’s coach – worked with Wasps and London Irish, both Premier Division sides and is currently Director of Rugby with Nuneaton R.F,C. Much of his time has centered around Bristol Academy of Sport and Gloucester and Bristol Universities.
Llewellyn’s playing career took off at the age of seven in the West Country witnessing him rise to captain his town side at 14-18 level and then take off to further his rugby experience in New Zealand playing for University of Waikato for a year. On returning he settled into the Clifton R.F.C. setup in Bristol but playing days came to an abrupt halt when he tore a spinal disc. Since then he has dedicated himself to becoming the best coach possible: his qualifications are prodigious. He brings a new level of coaching and management to the island side at a time when the Moufflons are entering unknown territory. The new division comprises Baltic and Balkan countries as well as Iberian that will surely test the mettle of the Moufflons and their new coach.
Phil Llewellyn has not visited the country before and states: “I am really looking forward to visiting Cyprus which I am told is very friendly, full of charming people, wonderful weather, and good food.”
He went on “Taking over from such an experienced and successful coach as Paul Shanks I know there is much to prove. While I am younger than most national trainers I think there can be some advantages in this. It is my intention to take Cyprus, who after all are a very young team, as far as they can go, and then a bit farther”
Laurence Vasilliades, president of the Cyprus Rugby Federation, stated “The decision by Paul to retire was a blow but it seems we have struck lucky with Philip, who comes fresh and full of new ideas just when we are moving up in Europe. Paul did a marvelous job for us and we will never forget him. It is brilliant that he has found time to stay on as Director of Rugby and will be able to mentor the new coach on the rock strewn fields of European rugby.”