THE Cyprus national rugby team take on Hungary in Paphos on Saturday desperate for a win after a poor season so far.
The European Nations Cup Division 2B game at the Paphiakos stadium will be the third encounter between the two nations.
Despite the Hungarians having a greater pool of big, physical players and decades-long experience in the game, they went down to a 46-13 defeat on their last visit to the island in 2014.
The Moufflons have not had a good campaign after being promoted following their remarkable entry into European International Rugby, having lost to group leaders Lithuania, Latvia twice and Andorra this season.
They had gone six years without defeat and set a new world record of 24 consecutive international victories.
At present, only Hungary are below Cyprus in the group standings, so Saturday’s game is crucial.
Team manager Rick Wadmore though is quietly confident, saying: “There are some exciting young players coming into the side that will present a challenge to the opposition.
“We haven’t lost to them in three previous games and don’t intend to now.
“Alex Zavallis is the division’s top scorer and he is part of a very fast back-line that will create a few problems if the pack can supply the ball.”
Moufflons captain Marco Mladanovic meanwhile has made an emotional appeal to the supporters. “This weekend we are finally back on home turf at the Paphiacos playing Hungary. We’ve learnt a lot over the last few games and are now ready to end the wave of losses,” he said.
“More than ever we need you guys and girls there, not only to cheer us on, but for us to prove our worth to you.
“Come and see a new generation of players entertain you with their courage and skills.”
The captain’s statement reflects the very close relationship between supporters and players which is emphasised by the fact the turnstile revenue hasn’t dropped even though the team has suffered severe setbacks since being promoted.
The fans have their own website and are just as loyal, win or lose. The loyalty factor, reflected through gate receipts, is critical to the existence of rugby in Cyprus.
Many of the current ills have arisen through lack of financial support – if it wasn’t for the parents and generous supporters, it would have been difficult for the country to fulfil its international commitments. Last June, Cyprus travelled to the European Sevens Cup in Poland with a severely depleted squad yet managed to reach the final, coming away with the runners-up trophy.
Many players and supporters believe the Cyprus Sports Organistaion could do more for such a committed band of athletes.
Kick-off on Saturday is at 2pm. Admission is 10 euros but free for children. Food and drink will be available.