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Ken Borland



Rule-bound IRB criticised for Cyprus exclusion 0

Posted on July 03, 2017 by Ken

 

The International Rugby Board (IRB) has been accused of being more concerned with rules and regulations than actually growing the game in the wake of Cyprus’s exclusion from the European qualifiers for the 2015 World Cup.

In the last four-and-a-half years, Cyprus have stormed through the lower echelons of European rugby, winning 19 consecutive Tests – more than any other team in the history of the game – on their way to the top of Nations Cup Division 2C (effectively the sixth division).

But their ultimate dream – that of playing in the World Cup qualifiers – has been denied them due to the fact that the tiny, football-mad island does not have enough rugby teams.

Quite how the country – in the midst of a financial crisis much like Greece’s – is meant to develop more rugby teams when the IRB are closing down their opportunities is difficult to fathom.

Cyprus’s problem is that they have less than the four teams (the IRB don’t count the British Army sides based on the island, which is ridiculous) required for associate membership of the IRB. And a country has to be an associate member for at least two years before they can become full members. Only full members are allowed to participate in World Cup qualifiers.

“The IRB certainly don’t want to stand in the way of Cyprus, we will assist them and try to encourage rugby there. We have 117 members so we don’t want to exclude anyone. But the rules are to ensure quality control and they are the criteria agreed by the members,” IRB spokesman James Fitzgerald told the Daily Maverick.

“Cyprus can’t be included in World Cup qualifiers until they’ve been associates for two years and then they have to apply for full member status.

“They don’t fulfil the criteria in terms of the number of teams – for national 15s rugby you need at least four teams. They are moving towards that, but that competition won’t start until September. To be a full member, you need 10 teams.”

Critics of the IRB decision have pointed out that both Greece and the United Arab Emirates were given full membership due to “extenuating circumstances”.

“Greece fulfil the core criteria but have had financial problems, therefore they were given consideration as a special case,” Fitzgerald explained, while the UAE were fast-tracked due to the collapse of the previous Arabian Gulf Rugby Football Union and the strategic importance of the region.

These rules don’t take into account the fact that Cyprus rugby is in a stronger state than in countries like Slovenia and Luxembourg, both of whom will take part in World Cup qualifying. Because Cyprus are four levels below serious potential European qualifiers like Georgia, Russia, Romania and Portugal, there is little chance of them keeping anyone out of the showpiece event, but they should at least be allowed to chance their arm at the highest level of the game.

The qualifiers start in four days’ time on May 4 so even if the IRB relent in the face of public pressure and give Cyprus membership, it is probably too late for them to take part in the 2015 tournament.

The IRB will be meeting this week and South African Rugby Union president Oregan Hoskins, who is the vice-chairman of the IRB, believes the game’s governing body can make exceptions to their rules.

“There’s a crucial meeting and I’m certain it will be up for discussion. Cyprus form a part of Fira, the European governing body, and they do have a representative in the council, Octavian Morariu, a Romanian.

“Countries can be exempt from the regulations if there are extenuating circumstances. Every law can be bent, I like to think, if there’s a very good case for it,” Hoskins told the Daily Maverick.

“We’ve made exceptions before in South Africa, for instance with clubs that didn’t have five teams but their rugby was so good that we let them play in the premier leagues. Some clubs have so few players, but because of the quality of those players they should not be penalised.

“If countries make a good case, a compelling argument, then rugby’s attitude is pragmatic,” Hoskins said.

“The Cyprus Rugby Federation regrets that the IRB has taken this decision which we believe will have severe and detrimental effects on Cyprus rugby, especially due to the economic and continuous crisis that has affected the nation recently,” Lawrence Vasiliades, the president of the CRF, said.

Hopefully a plan can be made because rugby will certainly be the loser if one of the great fairy tales of the game’s history is allowed to wither away, denied the chance to compete on the highest stage. Cyprus in the World Cup qualifiers would be a wonderful advertisement for the IRB’s efforts to develop the sport all over the world.

https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-04-30-rule-bound-irb-tackled-over-cyprus-exclusion/#.WVo8hoSGPIU

South Africans chasing world record with Cyprus rugby 0

Posted on January 02, 2013 by Ken

Springbok rugby might not be setting the world alight at the moment, but six South Africans will be chasing the record for most consecutive wins this weekend in a reminder of how our talent has had an influence all over the planet.

Cyprus is not widely known as a rugby-playing nation but, with half-a-dozen South Africans in the starting team and 15 in the wider squad, they have won all three of their Tests this year to take their winning streak to 15 games since their last defeat in September 2008.

They start their new season on Saturday against Austria in Vienna with the world record of 18 successive wins, set by Lithuania between May 2006 and April 2010, firmly in their sights. Many South African fans, whose knowledge of the facts often plays second fiddle to their passion for the game, were blissfully unaware of this record, thinking Nick Mallett’s Springboks of 1997/98 held the honours with their 17-match streak.

But with the All Blacks having been held to a draw by Australia last month, ending their winning streak at 16, it is Cyprus in prime position to become the new world record holder.

Springbok rugby might not be setting the world alight at the moment, but six South Africans will be chasing the record for most consecutive wins this weekend in a reminder of how our talent has had an influence all over the planet.

Cyprus are not widely known as a rugby-playing nation but, with half-a-dozen South Africans in the starting team and 15 in the wider squad, they have won all three of their Tests this year to take their winning streak to 15 games since their last defeat in September 2008.

They start their new season on Saturday against Austria in Vienna with the world record of 18 successive wins, set by Lithuania between May 2006 and April 2010, firmly in their sights. Many South African fans, whose knowledge of the facts often plays second fiddle to their passion for the game, were blissfully unaware of this record, thinking Nick Mallett’s Springboks of 1997/98 held the honours with their 17-match streak.

But with the All Blacks having been held to a draw by Australia last month, ending their winning streak at 16, it is Cyprus who are in prime position to become the new world record holders.

They have just been promoted to European Nations Cup Division 2C, but Bulgaria, who they thrashed 94-3 in April, were promoted with them and have already beaten Austria 12-7 a short while ago.

While Cyprus are taking European rugby by storm, the reality for the team is that it is the old story of an amateur outfit struggling to make ends meet.

Coach Paul Shanks, a member of the British Royal Air Force that was based on the eastern Mediterranean island and a former Combined Services player and coach, spends an hour or two a night co-ordinating travel plans and doing other admin work that brings together a team made up of players based in nine different countries.

“The financial crisis in Europe and in Cyprus generally has had the biggest impact on us.  A major sponsor would make a major difference for us, but there’s no money. There are five to seven thousand kids involved in the Tag Rugby programme on the island, but the finances aren’t there to take that further,” Shanks says.

Most of the team have full-time jobs and they have to pay to travel to their matches and training sessions, most of which are held in England, as well as kit.

And they have also suffered at the hands of the Cypriot Sports Organisation, whose reaction to the growing sport has ranged from non-existent support to charging them for playing at home.

But the dogged determination of the Cyprus team, known as the Moufflons (wild sheep that live in the mountains), has seen them prosper and not only serves as a great reminder why most people take up the game, but also as an inspiring fairytale of how the little guy succeeds against all odds.

The incredible journey began in the late 1990s when many Cypriot families who had moved to South Africa, England and Australia after the Turkish invasion of 1974 returned home and brought rugby with them. The game had previously been played in the British military bases on the island, but in 2003 the Paphos Tigers club, made up predominantly of South African returnees, was formed.

In 2006, the Cypriot Rugby Federation was created and the team’s first international was against Greece in 2007, the new boys winning 39-3.

Azerbaijan, Monaco and Slovakia were all beaten in Cyprus’s first year in the European Third Division but the rookies ran out of pant in their promotion/relegation match against Israel, losing 23-14 to remain in the D Section for 2008.

But since then they have won every match, showing astonishing endurance as they have earned three promotions in successive years and have played a pleasing brand of rugby as well.

“We play quite an attractive style of rugby, we let the ball do the work. Our game plan is based on support play and keeping the ball alive, which worked convincingly for us last season, as shown by our big wins against Bulgaria (94-3) and Greece (72-5). But it’s also based on the forwards laying the foundation, they do the dog-work,” Shanks says.

The former hooker added that there were a trio of top-class South Africans in the backline … a reminder that we don’t just produce forwards.

While a lot of the players are based elsewhere, Shanks says three were born in Cyprus and a couple qualified to play through being resident for 36 months, but the rest all have Cypriot parents or grandparents.

And the team’s success is making a difference on an island where football has dominated but has brought far less prestige on the international stage.

“We’ve realised through our development that the average Cypriot wonders what rugby is all about and football still very much dominates the island’s thinking. But by continuing to win, it’s had a knock-on effect and the world-record chase has definitely proven to be a tool to attract young players. The in-country recognition is starting to stir and government is also getting interested,” Shanks says.

Rugby is also mending old wounds. Lefkosia is the world’s last remaining divided capital with a United Nations buffer zone separating the self-declared Republic of Northern Cyprus and the Greek Cypriot-controlled south. But the Moufflons have had Turkish Cypriot players from the outset and three members of that community are integral members of the squad.

The world record is one thing, but Shanks has his eyes set on Cyprus having a go for World Cup qualification.

If they can win Division 2C, then they will enter the qualifiers and five knockout matches will stand between them and the repechage playoff and a place in the 2015 World Cup.

“I have to pinch myself sometimes, but it has been a lot of hard work. But after the game every Saturday, it’s all worth it,” Shanks says.

http://dailymaverick.co.za/article/2012-11-16-shanks-a-bunch-the-fairytale-of-cyprus-rugby



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