By Alexander McCowan
THE Cyprus rugby team embark on their first game of the year in Division 2B of the European Nations Cup in Hungary this afternoon (2.30pm).
With their world record win streak of 24 games ended by Latvia in Riga in November, the Moufflons are building for the future.
The team that started in Division 3D seven years ago have been promoted every season and have accumulated 1239 points against only 296 conceded on their journey through Europe’s game of hard knocks.
The Moufflons currently lie in third place behind Latvia and leaders Lithuania after two games in their division. The two Baltic sides have decades of experience in pre-Soviet leagues.
The recently-promoted Cypriots, under new manager Phil Llewellyn, have travelled to Hungary without many first-team players.
Laurence Vassiliades, president of the Cyprus Rugby Federation, believes that the defeat to Latvia, which ended their six-year unbeaten record, was inevitable and will lead to a more realistic approach to the upcoming games.
“We have been on an amazing journey during the last six years. Our tiny country has no background in rugby, has been marginalised by the Cyprus Sports Organisation, is dependent on our players contributing to their expenses for the honour of representing their country and missed out on the World Cup play-offs through a technicality.
“I take this opportunity to salute and thank all our loyal supporters, from the parents, managers, trainers, program and strip sellers, and all those that make rugby in Cyprus such a smooth running and family affair.
“We must be cautious against Hungary, for although we have beaten them twice before, they are a much-improved team and will command our respect. Phil Llewellyn, our manager, has selected a team that is in excellent condition and should be capable of victory.”
Cyprus are currently ranked 48 in the world, with Hungary at 73 out of 153 competing nations.
Greece and Turkey are languishing in 107th and 108th places respectively.
Llewellyn commented on the state of competition among the players for selection: “Competition is extremely fierce among the lads, which is very good news for a manager and very healthy for the state of Cypriot rugby. If you could see the commitment these guys are bringing to the tackle and the game it would make your hair stand on end – you don’t want to get in their way.
“However, Hungary have a new coach and will bring a totally sound and well-drilled team to the game. They have home advantage, which is always worth a point or two, so we will not be taking anything for granted, but remain quietly confident.”
Theo Lenos, team manager, and host at the celebrated ‘Keg and Barrel’ in Paphos, where the players and fans gather after home games, added: “Six years of undefeated play has at last come to an end, as we all knew it would. It has been a marvellous journey, but now we build for a more realistic future among some of the toughest countries in Europe.
“We are quick learners and ready for the task. This is a very important year. Remember, if we retain our position in European Cup Sevens, we could be in the Olympic qualifiers.”