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Cyprus on verge of historic win
Stuart Farmer and Andrew Vou
March 15, 2013
Will Cyprus be celebrating following their clash with Bulgaria on Saturday? © Cyprus Rugby
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**UPDATE - Cyprus beat Bulgaria 79-10 to extend their unbeaten run to 18 Tests**

The Mediterranean island of Cyprus may not be best known for its rugby prowess, but it is on the cusp of setting a new world record for successive Test wins.

The Moufflons, nicknamed after the wild sheep found in the Cypriot mountains, have been unbeaten for over four years, since their only previous defeat at Test level; 14-23 to Israel in Netanya in the promotion play-offs for the FIRA/AER Championships on September 6, 2008. This represents a run of 17 successive victories, thereby equalling the all-time record in Test history jointly held by New Zealand (1965-69), South Africa (1997-98) and Lithuania (2006-10). All eyes will therefore be on Paphos on Saturday when Bulgaria are the visitors in division 2C of the FIRA/AER Championships to see if the Cypriots can set a new benchmark.

According to official IRB records the number of most successive wins is 18 achieved by Lithuania between 2006-10, but this may not be so. Apparently this run began in May 2006 with their victory over Hungary and continued until they were beaten by Ukraine almost four years later. However, missing off the IRB database is Lithuania's 18-3 defeat on June 4, 2006. This result is clearly displayed on the FIRA website and even has an official match sheet available for download.

This loss was played after the IRB's sequence began, so the run needs to be shortened by one win to 17. The confusion is compounded with some lists elsewhere on the web because within the winning sequence there is technically another "victory" - a walk-over against Armenia in October 2009. As the game was never actually played neither ESPNscrum or the IRB include this game in their totals. For a long time there was also much confusion over the status of two "friendlies" played during the run against local neighbours Latvia for the Baltic Cup in April 2009 and April 2010, both of which the Lithuanians won comfortably, but it seems that the IRB do not recognise these matches for ranking points so ESPNscrum have been consistent and also left these contests out of our own lists.

Cyprus' sharp rise through the lower European Divisions has come as a shock to a nation who only played its first international match just six years ago. The growth of the sport on the island has been aided greatly by the sizeable population of Cypriots with British, South African and Australian heritage who established a foundation for rugby players to enjoy the sport they had grown up playing in their places of birth.

 
"Last season saw the islanders score the most points across all European divisions (474) and concede the fewest (51), while their last meeting with Bulgaria was a 94-3 thrashing, the biggest European victory in the past four years"
 

And while the team receives no government funding, relying on local businesses and sponsors to keep them afloat, Cyprus continue to defy the odds in the FIRA-AER divisions by sweeping away everyone in their path. The Moufflons gained two successive promotions and amassing some impressive statistics along the way. Last season saw the islanders score the most points across all European divisions (474) and concede the fewest (51), while their last meeting with Bulgaria was a 94-3 thrashing, the biggest European victory in the past four years.

But, should they win on Saturday, an even bigger challenge lies ahead. A recent tweak in the qualification process for the 2015 World Cup leaves the minnows with an outside chance of reaching rugby's biggest stage. Having won their first two league games this season, a win against Bulgaria will guarantee the Cypriots' place in the knockout phase of the European qualification process. From then on, they must win five knockout matches to get to the repêchage play-off and, if they are successful, their reward will be a place in the 'group of death' with England, Wales and Australia.

Helping them on their way will be former Ireland and USA coach Eddie O'Sullivan who has agreed to assess the Cypriot national team and the structures within Cyprus Rugby and give his advice on how the national team can improve with the limited resources the federation possesses.

Can the Moufflons make history this weekend? © Cyprus Rugby
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