By Alexander McCowan
THE usual air of confidence that floats through the Cyprus changing room before a rugby international is slightly tempered now by the knowledge that some things have changed.
The Moufflons have accomplished so much over the last five years, gliding effortlessly from the bottom division in Europe to being promoted into division 2B.
On Saturday, they play Andorra at the Paphiakos Stadium with the kick-off at 2pm.
Although a small country like the hosts, the Andorrans have a rich rugby pedigree. Their players are mainly drawn from the second divisions of French and Spanish rugby which fields hundreds of teams competing every weekend.
Compare this with the Cypriot side that will draw its players from the three home-based clubs and the diaspora, probably not more than a hundred players in total.
Many of the Andorrans will be semi-professional who have learned the game from early school. Their fathers and uncles will have played and the region abounds in clubs that are recognised as giants of the game such as Toulouse, Montpelier, Bezier and Bayonne.
When Phil Llewellyn, the newly-appointed Moufflons coach, meets up with his players for his first international with them, he will have done his research on the opposition as all good coaches do.
He will be looking for their strengths and weaknesses while at the same time being aware of his own. Llewellyn will not have the luxury of a couple of weeks preparation – more likely a couple of days. And it may be this paucity of resources – physical, chronological and most of all financial – that is the very key to the team’s success.
A visiting official from the Cyprus Sports Authority who attended the home game against Austria last season was asked why Cyprus Rugby was so starved of funds but still remained so successful.
His answer was “victory through adversity”, which led to the suggestion from a rugby committee member that perhaps it might be a good idea to switch the rugby grant to the Cyprus national Football Team and gives theirs to the Moufflons.
Laurence Vassiliades, the Cyprus Rugby Federation president, this week stated: “We are entering a new era. The team has arrived at this position under the tutelage of Paul Shanks and now the reins are passed to Phil Llewellyn, a younger coach, but with a remarkable background, and some of the players that Paul nurtured, who were novices three years ago, are now seasoned internationals who will be role models for a new wave of young players.
“I anticipate a good challenging game against Andorra, but believe we will continue our winning ways.”
Cyprus are the current holders of the world record for consecutive international wins (23) and expect to extend it against Andorra.
Theo Lenos, the team manager, has little doubt that this will be the outcome: “Our coaches have been very active and will be bringing some very fit players to the arena. If ever the lads needed an example of match-ready fitness they need look no further than George Agathocleous, not only part of the on-island coaching staff, but at 32 one of the country’s top try scorers and holder of the record number of caps.
“Phil will be trying out a couple of new caps that have shown promise, and I hope that the weather holds because we need the supporters coming through the turnstiles.”
The next international in Division 2B will be away against Latvia on November 22, followed by Hungary on March 29 and then Lithuania at home on May 2.