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Rugby on the big screen October 11, 2007

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Nicosia’s rugby fans can enjoy all the fun of this weekend’s World Cup semi-finals on the big screen at the French Cultural Centre, which will be showing the two big matches on giant TVs in their gardens.

The France Vs England match kicks-off at 10pm on Saturday, with South Africa Vs Argentina starting 24 hours later. Entrance is free.

Communications Officer at the Centre Yiannis Hadjiloucas explained that “since France is the host nation, we thought it would be a nice idea to set something like this up”. He acknowledged that Rugby Union is not a popular sport with Cypriots but said that Saturday’s France vs England match-up “is sure to attract many expats currently living in Cyprus.”

French Cultural Centre, 14 Metochiou Street, Nicosia, tel 22 459333.


What? Funny shaped balls? June 19, 2007

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As Cyprus fields its first ever international rugby side, let’s take a look at the history of the game on the island

Last year, we had a run out with the Nicosia Barbarians and reported that Rugby Football was alive and well in Cyprus and that nearly 50 spectators turned up to watch a game every Saturday.

Wasn’t this fun, but we couldn’t see it competing with a real game like football, you know, that game played with a round ball by teams of sporting young gentlemen, whose impeccable behaviour on the field is reflected only by the delicate and modest response from their dedicated and loyal followers in the stand. Such manifestations of sporting excellence used to be known as Corinthian, how apt that it should finally rest in the football stadiums of Cyprus. But enough of the reverie, where was I, oh yes, Rugby.

How many of you are aware that from such humble beginnings, men of mighty thews are preparing to battle and grind, and shed blood on the playing fields of Paphos in the name of Rugby and for the glory of Cyprus? Yes, it is true, after all those years toiling in the mills of obscurity, being watched over by one man and his dog, international rugby has come to Cyprus. 

How did this happen? Did William Webb Ellis acquire iconic status here? No, it was all the work of a dedicated band of rugby fanatics, determined to bring the great game to the public of Cyprus, and by their enthusiasm attract young players from the communities where the new clubs are based.

Let me take you back to the start. Rugby football was brought to Cyprus by the British military, whose ranks enjoyed games between the various regiments and corps based in Cyprus and attracted no interest from the wider population.

It wasn’t until the influx of Cypriots returning from countries where they breathed the air of linament and jock-straps, and were baptised into the great game of rugby from childhood, which meant they were hooked forever, that the game started to receive a bit more attention. There is a camaraderie about the game that never leaves the participant,  the firmest of friendships are made, spectators at international and club games are nearly always players or former players, and, let’s face it, if you haven’t played you’ll have no idea what’s going on.

The game is believed to have been invented by the Celts in Britain, not exactly a peaceful bunch, who stuffed a bull’s scrotum with straw and threw it about a bit. This progressed into vicious games between villages, where each side tried to gain control of the ball, which led to a few fatalities and drew down the odium of the monarchy, who outlawed it. It wasn’t the mortality rate they were concerned about, they thought it would interfere with archery practice.

We now move forward a few years, to 2003, when a group of Anglos met up with a bunch of South African Cypriots in Paphos, all dismayed at the lack of opportunity to beat each other senseless, in the nicest possible way, under the Laws of Rugby, they are called laws because they were drawn up by a trio of lawyers from Rugby School, the Alma Mater of the great game. Did I mention that there is a great affinity between rugby and beer? Well there is, and it will not surprise you to hear that these meetings took place in the Keg and Barrel pub in Bar Street. The consequence of this meeting was the formation of the Paphos Tigers Rugby Football Club. They formed a scratch team and challenged that mighty military side, the Episkopi Eagles. Result: The Tigers triumphed. It is now a matter of history.

The word spread throughout the island, reaching the ears of Costas Mastroutis in Limassol and Loukis Pattihis in Nicosia, both former rugby players of some standing; Costas a representative of his Province in South Africa, and Loukis, a top-class schoolboy player in Scotland. These two, with help from committed friends, started to promote the game in their own cities. The Limassolians made the Woodman Pub their base and started training in carparks and on the beach. The Nicosians borrowed football pitches and made themselves at home on the old airport site now occupied by the UN. All this led to the formation of the Cyprus Rugby League, which is comprised of all the sovereign base sides and the three regional sides; the Paphos Tigers, the Limassol Crusaders and the Nicosian Barbarians. After only one year, the Tigers were top of the league and look set to repeat the performance in 2007. The Barbarians were so confident they entered the Beirut 10s, a regional competition for ten-a-side teams and won.

We are now looking at serious rugby, so what is the next step; they make a constitution, and become part of the Cyprus Sports Organisation (KOA). Once an established member of KOA, the Cyprus Rugby Federation was formed, allowing the island to apply for membership of the Federation of International Rugby and Association of European Rugby; all pretty heady stuff for a union that has only been in existence for three years.

None of this could be done without the commitment and determination of such dedicated sportsmen as Costas and Loukis and those madmen from Paphos, Barry Hatam, Tony Toma, Gary Thomson, Ron James and of course the brain behind the coaching sessions, Niall Docherty. The Cyprus Federation also want to emphasise the crucial assistance that they received in those early days from the British Military Rugby Unions.

So after Costas’ visit to France Cyprus is now the 43rd member of FIRA, albeit though membership is conditional; Cyprus has to undergo a proving period during which  must display their ability to host and organise tournaments and international competitions.

The National Committee of the Cyprus Rugby Federation, to celebrate their membership of the European Association, last March arranged a game against Greece for the Independence Cup; this is to mark the day when Greece achieved its freedom from the Ottoman yoke on March 25, 1821. The game took place in the Kiniras Sports Centre in Paphos, the ancient capital of Cyprus.

None of this comes about by chance, it takes tremendous organisation and unfortunately money; no event can take place under federation rules without there being full medical teams present, and all the activity must be covered by insurance. The clubs have all been active in gaining sponsorship, most notably from the stalwarts in Paphos; the host at the ground was Artio Brasserie, which run the hospitality marquee, and the international team was kitted out by Kukri. One of the main supporters of rugby in Cyprus is Akis Socarophou of LTV and they covered the highlights.

One of the requirements of the international federation, apart from those listed above, is the promotion of the game on home turf, and it is this aspect of the game, that is attracting so much attention. Some of the clubs have established contacts with schools and are giving their time to training and encouraging young players to participate; however, any mothers reading this have nothing to fear, because, while the basic rules and moves are practiced, there is no bodily contact. Loucas Pattihis and Duncan Kirby, both Barbarians, but quite nice really, have developed touch rugby for juniors and colts on their old training ground at the English School in Nicosia; however, it seems that they now may have more space as a new ground may be in the offing.

Now for the pertinent question; who is on the Cyprus International Rugby Team? This is what I put to the President of the Cyprus Federation, Costas Mastroudis. It appears final selection will be made by the National coach, Niall Docherty and the captain. Who he? I query. Ah now, we encounter a very interesting phenomenon; apparently there has been so much interest in our forthcoming international, that we have attracted the attention of our rugby playing diaspora in Australia, South Africa and the UK, surprise, surprise. League players there are keen to get a cap playing for Cyprus. These are countries where the game is taken very seriously. So, the answer to the question as to who will captain the first international Cyprus side is… Jonathan Pettemerides, a former top performer with Bath. 

And if there are any sponsors out there who want to get their names on a truly international shirt, and have no doubt, the Cyprus guys are going to be seen on television screens around the world when compete for the world cup in 2010, get in early, before the big companies catch on.

The essential contact names of the executive committee of the Cyprus Rugby Federation; for all those aspiring players and mothers wanting their children raised in the last bastion of sporting excellence.
Tony Thoma, Development Officer, tel 99 156774
Chris Athinakis, Secretary, tel 99 754295
Loukis Pattihis, Vice President, tel 99 685798
Costas Mastoroudes, President, tel 99 594936
Duncan Kirby, Treasurer, tel 99 309197
David Bell, Chairman, tel 99 490029

An Irish coach for Greek rugby? May 17, 2007

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The Greek Rugby Team called on the luck of the Irish when faced Slovakia in their crucial game in Thessaloniki on May 12.

However, former Leinster scrum-half Niall Doherty, who becomes Greece’s fourth head coach in just two years, believed that Greece has enough talent to win the one-off tie and gain promotion to division 3C of the FINA European league. And he proved right!

“I have watched Slovakia on tape,” Doherty said. “They are big and strong up front and have a good half-back, but I am confident that we will come through it. If we play as well as I know we can, then we should win comfortably.”

Doherty, 53, comes into the Greek setup via Cyprus where he is director of rugby and National coach. It was his organisation of the Cyprus side that thrashed Greece 39-3 in March that tempted the Greek federation to dump New Zealander Matt Bridge and bring Doherty on board. However, according the Cyprus Rugby Federation President, Costas Mastoroudes, the arrangement is only temporary.

“We don’t have any games until the autumn, so when the Greek federation asked if they could borrow Niall we were happy to help out,” he said. “As far as I am concerned though, it is only for this game.”

As a player, Doherty represented Old Belvedere in Dublin where he partnered Irish and British Lions legend Ollie Campbell at half-back. Doherty also played twice for the Leinster senior team before retiring and moving into coaching. The Irishman has already made some changes in personnel including the leadership where Michalis Pelekanos, who has captained Greece in each of their six internationals to date, gives way to Rhodes scrum-half Angelos Seitis. Maybe this means a new era for the Greek Rugby Team? We’ll have to wait and see how they progress.

Greek rugby rises a division May 14, 2007

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Greek National Team survives Slovakia’s second-half surge for 20-17 win and European promotion

Rugby may remain a virtually unknown sport in this country, yet, despite a lack of public support, the National Team is making good progress. At the weekend, a 20-17 victory over Slovakia in Thessaloniki saw the Greek team promoted to Division 3C of the European league.

The National Team narrowly missed out on being promoted to the higher-tier division last season after losing to Finland in home and away games. Greece built a seemingly insurmountable 20-0 lead, but Slovakia launched a major offensive to reduce the deficit to just three points by the end of the encounter.

“We played very well in the first half and then went off the boil after the break, but we did just enough to get the job done,” noted Greece’s Michalis Pelekanos. “Last year, it was disappointing when we were beaten by Finland at home and away to miss out on promotion, but this makes up for it. This is absolutely fantastic. A great day for Greek rugby,” he continued.

Pelekanos, the National Team’s former captain, enjoyed one of his best games for the Greek team. Other leading performers who made a massive contribution to Greece’s win included George Tsatzaronas, who started at inside center before switching to outside half, as well as flanker Levan Ivansvili, 18-year-old wing Billy Katzalos, and prop Petros Trifonidis.

Under pressure in the scrum from early on, Greece did well to build a comfortable lead considering the fatigue that set into the National Team’s play in the second half. The team suffered a major setback in the second half when Angelos Seitas, the new captain, was injured and had to be taken to hospital.

His absence seemed to affect the Greek team as Slovakia narrowed the deficit to just three points with twenty minutes of play remaining. Greece, however, managed to freeze Slovakia’s challenge thanks to sound defensive play.

The Greek team’s opening try came from Trifonidis who capitalized on a fine break from Pelekanos. Chris Fiotakis added a second try by collecting a loose ball on the halfway line and outpacing the Slovakian defence. Both tries were converted by England-based full-back Alex Mendoros.

President of International Rugby Development visits Cyprus May 13, 2007

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The President of Development of The International Rugby Board, Michel Arpaillange is visiting Cyprus for a series of high level meetings with the Cyprus Rugby Federation (CRF).

On Sunday 13th May, he will be attending the Paphos Tiger’s Fun Day which is an all day event and takes place at the Kiniras Sports Centre in Paphos. The main event of the day will be a rugby match between the Paphos Tiger’s President’s 15 against the best of the Combined Services on Cyprus. Kick-off is at 3.00 p.m.

On Monday, Arpaillange will be meeting both the Executive and General committees of the CRF where he will be informed of the Federations immediate plans for developing rugby on Cyprus. These include; introducing rugby at schools, the establishment of rugby academies for boys and girls of all ages in the main towns, the introduction of seminars and training courses for coaches, referees and touch judges, the formation of additional clubs along with a number of other important plans.

On Tuesday, he is scheduled to meet Costas Papacostas of the Cyprus Sports Organisation. Later he will be meeting with the Cultural Secretary of the French Embassy Madame Bassereau Dubois, who will inform him of the proposed screening of the Rugby World Cup, which is being held in Paris this year in September.

The main matches will be screened at the French Cultural Centre in Nicosia, in association with the Nicosia Barbarians Rugby Club.

It is hoped that this visit will result in the upgrading of the CRF’s status with the Federation of International Rugby Association (FIRA AER) from associate member to full member. This will entitle Cyprus to receive funding from the FIRA AER and to participate in the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

Athens RFC, rugby champions of Greece April 26, 2007

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ATHENS RFC successfully retained the Greek rugby championship when they beat Rhodes 19-0 in a lacklustre final on April 15 in Kifissia.

Both sides lost key players in the opening 15 minutes with Greece prop Costas Tsampaos breaking his arm, an injury which is sure to rule him out of next month’s international playoff against Slovakia.

Athens’ pressure finally told when Georgian flanker Revas Kiknadze touched down for the opening score of the game midway through the first half.

George Tzatsaronis missed the conversion but was on target when centre Chris Fiotakis, who is tipped to be going to play in England at the end of the season, twice outran the Rhodes defence for two touchdowns behind the posts.

Leading 19-0 at the break, Athens were pegged back in the second half with Rhodes pinning them in their own half for long periods. Rhodes had several try-scoring opportunities, but either knocked on at crucial moments or were held up by spirited Athens defence.

The islanders, playing without their standoff Anesti Karageorgiou, who was red-carded in the semifinal for punching an opponent, might also rue their decision to try for the seven-pointers whenever they had penalties within kicking distance of the posts.

On at least four occasions in the second half they had straightforward chances to kick for goal but turned them down each time. With a possible 12 points under their belt they might have made the last ten minutes extremely uncomfortable for the Athenians.

“We feel great because we really feel we deserved to win the title – even if the game itself did not really come up to expectations,” said Athens prop Omiros Fanariotis, who also gave credit to Rhodes for the pressure they applied in the second half.

Last year, Athens won the inaugural championship by default when Rhodes were unable to make the trip to the capital for the final because of bad weather which led to the cancellation of their ferry. This year they flew.

Related Links > www.rugby.gr 

Back-to-back rugby titles for Athens April 16, 2007

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Athens defeated Rhodes 19-0 in Greek rugby’s final yesterday for back-to-back titles in a competition now just two years old.

All the scoring in the final, a mostly lackluster game, came in the first half of play. Athens was pegged back by Rhodes following the break, but the islanders were unable to capitalize on several scoring opportunities.

“We feel great because we really believe we deserved to win the title, even if the game itself did not really live up to expectations,” said Athens prop Omiros Fanariotis, who also gave credit to Rhodes for the pressure they applied in the second half.

Last season, Athens won the inaugural championship by default when Rhodes were unable to make the trip to the capital for the final because of bad weather. This year, the islanders flew to the capital for the final.