By Alexander McCowan
A depleted Cyprus Rugby Sevens side came second in the recent European Nations Sevens Cup in Poland with a squad of only nine men.
Cyprus, the poor man of Europe in financial terms but not in talent, turned up for the competition despite finances and administrative difficulties robbing the team of the full complement of twelve players.
Sevens is such an intense, fast, furious game, that it is essential to have a constant supply of rested players to replace each other on the field.
While the opposition had the luxury of a full squad plus support: medical team, managers, coaching staff, physios and committee members, the Moufflons scraped together nine players and the coach – the redoubtable Scotsman Ruadrih Pye.
Among the team was another jock, the veteran Andy Binicos, a man who has literally given blood for his country on the rugby field and was going to do the same thing again in the competition.
The Cup was played over two days with each team playing the other until two finalists emerge. For the last two years Cyprus has won the plate for third place overall by beating Germany.
The Moufflons are held in high regard by their European opponents because of the speed and robust commitment shown in the tackle. But this year third place seemed out of reach given the paucity of content and preparation.
The opposition comprised Ukraine, Sweden, Latvia, Moldova, Poland, Denmark, Hungary and the Czech Republic, all seasoned Sevens battlers and conscious that a good position in this competition could lead to an opportunity to participate in the 2016 Olympics where Sevens is now part of the Games.
With their usual aplomb, the mighty Moufflons disposed of the opposition in such a manner that they found themselves in the final against hosts Poland and lost narrowly, which given the circumstances was an amazing result.
The performance is perfectly summarised by Demetris Gregoriou, a new member of the squad who is a law student at the University of Nicosia, and who grew up in Edinburgh, but returned to the island to serve with the National Guard in the Special Forces.
“I want to say a massive thank you to everyone involved – all those back home in Cyprus as well as in the UK for that special financial support that proved so crucial – but especially to my brothers in the squad and our coach Ruadrih Pye for whom it was an incredible honour to play for,” he said.
The sentiment was echoed by Laurence Vasilliades, the Cyprus Rugby Federation president, who said: “I am so proud of the performance of these lads and grateful for the tremendous contribution made by Felix Frixou and Con Constantinides, that made much of this possible; they know what I mean.
“To arrive in Poland with such a diminished side and to reach the final is truly amazing. My special thanks goes out to the team, their parents, and especially to Ruadrih who welded the old to the new.”
The final word on the competition came from Marco Mladenovic, the national 15 captain who said: “We proved a lot this weekend from the singing of the national anthem to what we did against Poland with just nine players.”