THE Cyprus national rugby side take on island rivals Malta in Valletta on Saturday (2.30pm).
It is expected to be a tough encounter against a seasoned side who have already beaten all their opponents in the newly-formed European Conference Division 1 South (Croatia, Andorra and Israel).
At the end of last season, when the Cyprus Moufflons beat Hungary 15-3 to stay up, they were unaware that the European rugby authorities were busy restructuring the European leagues.
It was decided to divide countries into northern and southern sides, so that Cyprus – struggling to stay in European Nations Cup League 2B – found themselves in a division that contained three countries that previously occupied League 2A, which seemed like a promotion.
Last week, Malta played Andorra away and put 63 points on the board against them, scoring nine tries. The Moufflons lost 22-13 to Andorra in April.
At last, it seems that the Cyprus Rugby Federation has finally resolved the problem of vanishing coaches by selecting one from within – none other than the obvious choice for many – veteran Andy Binicos, the man who has literally shed blood for his country.
Moufflons followers will recall the dreadful injuries he has suffered – the triple leg fracture in Georgia, the broken arm in Poland, numerous concussions while earning his corn as a professional in Scotland.
‘Bini’s’ pedigree is peerless: rugby-schooled in South Africa, captain and coach at Currie in the Scottish B.P. Premier division – when he first appeared for Cyprus as playmaker.
No coach can know the strengths and weaknesses of the Moufflons better than ‘Bini’ but he has a daunting task.
Another sunbeam shining on the cash-strapped Cyprus Rugby Federation is the emergence of a new sponsor: the Paphos-based Twenty4Seven Security System, who are committed to providing the best for the team.
Speaking ahead of the clash with Malta, Laurence Vasilliades, president of the Cyprus Rugby Federation, said: “We find ourselves in an extraordinary situation. At the end of last season we were struggling to stay up, but now we are lodged in a superior division, containing the best of the southern sides, including our ‘bete noire’ Israel, which will bring out the best in our lads.
“The team will be a little rusty but I anticipate a good performance and I am sure we will rise to the occasion.”
This new league structure differs from the previous groups in that it is concluded in a single year, each team playing their rivals twice.
An interesting event occurred last weekend on Sky Sports television, when the panel were discussing the forthcoming New Zealand v Australia game, which saw the All Blacks become the first top-tier nation to win 18 consecutive Test matches.
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen pointed out that the world record was still firmly in the hands of the mighty Moufflons, who managed 24 straight wins.
This followed an article in the New Zealand Herald under the headline ‘Cyprus still streaks ahead of the All Blacks’.
It’s a strange old world when the New Zealand press knows more about the fortunes of the Moufflons then the Cypriots do.