By Alexander McCowan
WHEN Cyprus take the field against Latvia this afternoon at the Paphiacos Stadium, they will have revenge on their minds after the Latvians ended the Moufflons’ world record 24-game win streak when the two countries met last year in the European Nations Cup.
Laurence Vasilliades, president of the Cyprus Rugby Federation, said: “Latvia were the first country to beat us after six years of continuous victories.
“I knew that we could not continue to be promoted every season and remain undefeated, but it came as a blow and a real wake-up call. It made us aware that when we joined division 2B, the opposition would be much stronger, better organised and financially sound.
“But we have played four – lost two and won two – and are now in second place below group leaders, Lithuania.
“We go into this game with quiet confidence of winning, but more importantly we guarantee our supporters, a first-rate match.”
Apart from Lithuania and Latvia, European Nations Cup Division 2B also includes Hungary and Andorra, both beaten by the Moufflons in the first half of the season. Lithuania top the division with 20 points, followed by Cyprus, Andorra, and Latvia all on nine points, with Hungary bottom on four.
The euphoria following the recent Rugby World Cup in England has created an interest in Cyprus not previously encountered.
Rick Wadmore, the team manager and development officer, said: “Quite frankly, I am staggered by the number of supporters coming forward wanting information about the leagues, academies, TAG competitions (non-contact rugby for 6-12 year olds) and of course, the Moufflons.
“I think it’s a combination of the excitement surrounding the Rugby World Cup and the disenchantment many sports supporters in the country have with the scandals surrounding FIFA and local football.
“Rugby union has a deserved reputation for decency and honesty, as well as the standards it sets for sportsmanship: have you ever seen a rugby player challenge a referee? I think it’s these examples that are attracting parents and their children to the game.”
In June, Cyprus competed in the European Nations Sevens Cup in Gdansk and with a depleted squad won through to the final, narrowly losing to hosts Poland.
A number of the fans are questioning what is happening with the coaching staff though. Last season, national coach Phil Llewellyn – who made few appearances on the island – announced he was taking an appointment with the English RFU, which came as a surprise to some Cyprus Federation executives.
This left a serious chasm in a team recovering from their first defeat in six years. But who came to the rescue? None other than the old Welsh fox himself, the master of strategy, the author of Moufflon success: former national coach Paul Shanks.
Holding the fort, until new national coach in waiting Andrew Binnicos takes over in April, Shanks has come out of retirement to oversee matters until Binnicos arrives. Who could be better than the coach who masterminded the national side through six glorious years.
When asked what the tactics would be to cope with the Latvians, he replied: “The basics – everything stems from the set pieces, the scrums and the lineouts. Get these right and you control the game.”
It was believed that it was weakness in these areas that cost the Cypriots the last time out against Latvia.
The game will kick-off in Paphos at 2.30pm. Entry costs 10 euros and includes a program.
The next international for the Moufflons will be on November 28 against Andorra.