FRESH from their relegation escape, a rejuvenated Moufflons side take on European Nations Cup Division 2B leaders Lithuania on Saturday in Vilnius.
Life hasn’t been that easy for the Baltic side having lost to neighbouring Latvia 37-7 in their previous game, but they remain the division leaders and a formidable challenge.
The hosts held the world record for consecutive international victories (17) before the Cypriots stretched it to an amazing 24 without loss – a record that still stands.
Cyprus is travelling with a very young team including four new caps, a player with one cap, and another with only two international appearances.
When Cyprus played Hungary in Paphos earlier this month the crowd were unaware that the Moufflons’ front row of the scrum comprised three players with an average age of 19; given that this position – formed by the props and the hooker – is renowned for strength and experience, it was a triumph for the Moufflons to emerge victorious.
This type of experimentation is to be expected from new coach Andrew Binicos, a stalwart of Cyprus rugby and now, quite properly in the minds of many supporters, occupying his rightful position.
The coach arrives at a time of transition for European Rugby, with the international governing body in Paris establishing regional divisions, with a newly formed 2A Division that will include Cyprus, Malta, Israel and Andorra.
An interesting situation for the Moufflons, having just escaped relegation, is that they are now entering a division that contains three teams from the old 2A, a rank above their current position.
The last time Cyprus played Lithuania they lost 26-20 and many observers will recall how close the game was, with the home side putting the visitors under tremendous pressure in the second half.
Laurence Vassiliades, the president of the Cyprus Rugby Federation, believes that there is a tremendous amount of talent in the side.
“Andrew Binicos is determined to bring on his new young players, knowing that no amount of club rugby can replicate the cauldron of international play or the level of camaraderie, and he is determined to build for the future,” he said.
“We have had tremendous service from our veterans but we must move on. I feel we are entering a new arena with the re-arranged divisions, and after nine years in the European Cup, the Moufflons will feel very comfortable playing against the Israelis and the Maltese.
“Much will be revealed by Saturday’s game.”