By Alexander McCowan
THE Cyprus rugby team face their toughest challenge in six years when they take on Latvia in Riga on Saturday afternoon (2.30pm)
Fresh from a convincing 30-10 victory over Andorra two weeks ago, the Moufflons now face a team that has defeated Israel – the only country to have beaten Cyprus.
Admittedly, that was back in 2008, when the Cypriots were just developing, but nonetheless, the team contains players from that era that have not forgotten the loss.
The game against Andorra was a wake-up call for Cyprus, the opposition being far more robust than experienced in the lower ranks.
Now promoted into European Cup Division 2B that also contains Lithuania and Hungary, the match in the Northern mists, with an expected temperature of 5C is sure to test the Moufflons, holders of the world record for consecutive winning games (24).
Cyprus will once again be without some key players, but are happy to have the mercurial Marcus Holden back in form. They have also blooded three new caps, in the form of Chris Joannou, Theo Philiotis and Tim Timotheou. The team travel without Chris Thoma, who made such a big contribution against Andorra, his brother, Tony, the veteran captain, flying wing Jack Antoniou, and Fiddy Efthymiou, the ‘Limassol Express’.
However UK-based coach Phil Llewellyn has expressed confidence in his young charges, and despite the fact that he has had to rely on his on-island coaching team to ensure match fitness, he is confident: “I have seen the videos, and yes, they are a big, well-drilled side,” he said. “Height always plays a part in some of the set pieces it can’t be denied, but we have a game plan to contain them, and I believe that given a fair measure of possession, and with the speed and penetration of our backs, we can do the job. We won’t like travelling this far without a win.”
Theo Lenos, the Cyprus Rugby Federation vice-president, added: “Once again we are involved in a long-haul match which severely tests our financial and physical resources. Remember, this is a team of amateurs, made up of students, trainees, and young guys starting out on a career – that have to take time off work to play and then make a contribution to the expenses.
“How many international teams have to buy their own kit? Not many.
“If courage, determination and commitment win games then we shall win.”