THE Cyprus national rugby team will equal Lithuania’s world record of 18 straight wins if they beat Bulgaria on Saturday in Paphos.

It has taken Cyprus five years to reach the stage of not having lost a single divisional game against countries that have played rugby for decades with a much greater pool of players and certainly more governmental financial assistance.

The Moufflons – their ‘nom de guerre’ – receive an annual grant of little more than the monthly wage of a footballer on the island to fund four away internationals for a squad of thirty. However, the chances of losing to Bulgaria, a country of nearly eight million, is very slim. When the sides met in May last year, Cyprus hammered Bulgaria 94-3, which added to their previous encounter, when they ran in a ‘meager’ 55 points against a response of 8, giving a grand total of 149-11.

It is these winning margins that distinguish Cyprus from their rivals. In their 2011-12 campaign they played eight, won eight (with eight bonus points) and accumulated 474 points while conceding only 51 giving an average of close to 60 points per game.

Promoted into a new European division, Cyprus have continued where they left off by beating Austria 54-20 and Slovenia 49-8 with a weakened side.

No other European team racks up the scores like the Moufflons: their style is to keep up a constant barrage of free-flowing attacking rugby coupled with an iron-clad defense.

A recent analysis by Paul Shanks, the national coach, revealed that he calls on a pool of little more than sixty registered players, which is even more remarkable, when matched against the tens of thousands available to his competitors.

It is speculated by the rugby cognoscenti that Cyprus will progress though their current division as they did the last one by winning every game to give them a total of 24 consecutive wins, setting a new world record that will take some beating.

After Bulgaria, Cyprus play Hungary and then embark on the return games.

“The world record is a sideshow, it is always the game in hand that we must concentrate on,” said Shanks.

“While I recognise that breaking the record has brought the country to prominence in the rugby world, I don’t want the players to lose track of our purpose, which is to beat Bulgaria. My information is that we will meet a much improved and determined side than before and all our focus will be on that fact.”

Cyprus haven’t played a competitive game since December and team manager Theo Lenos recognized that there may be some rustiness.

“‘It has been a long lay-off with only some ‘A’ team games, but nevertheless, our players have kept themselves match-fit through regular club activity, and, with that little extra discipline we expect from our internationals, they will be a credit to the country. I anticipate some strong opposition but am confident of the result.”

When the players assembled for training they were in for a surprise as the figure standing beside Shanks was none other than Eddie O’Sullivan, the former Irish and American national coach who has agreed to be the Director of Rugby for the Moufflons.

This amazing scoop was brought about by the efforts of the Federation secretary, Andreas Iounnou, and the dynamic president, Laurence Vasiliades, who said: “Andreas put this proposition regarding Eddie O’Sullivan to me, which at first seemed too good to be true, but it’s not, and here he is.

“Eddie is deeply committed to supporting emerging rugby nations and has volunteered to work alongside our coaching staff to prepare us for our World-Cup play-offs and watch over our progress.”

O’Sullivan was Ireland’s most successful coach of recent years and prepared the USA. for the 2011 World Cup.

Cyprus Mail

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