Cyprus floored by World Cup snub

Date published: April 15 2013

The possibility of record holders Cyprus being involved in the RWC has taken a setback after they were omitted from the qualifying process.

The chance of record holders Cyprus being involved in the 2015 World Cup has taken a setback after they were omitted from the qualifying process.

Cyprus beat Bulgaria 79-10 on March 16 this year to increase their winning run to a record breaking 18 games, stretching back to November 2008.

That would make for an incredible achievement on its own, but consider the fact that the first independent rugby club on the island was only established in 2003, and they played their first international on March 24, 2007 and the enormity of their feats to date become even more apparent.

The 'Moufflons', as they are known, have won 22 of their 23 matches, scoring 1014 points and 116 tries along the way and only allowing 157 points against. They do not receive hefty government funding and are reliant on players sacrificing time and their own money in order to play for the side.

Football is the dominant sport there, so recognition has not come easily.

In December 2012, the official 2015 World Cup website specifically highlighted the unbeaten run as an example of how the game is growing and stated:

“If Cyprus can go on and win (FIRA-AER European Nations Cup) Division 2C then a series of play-off rounds will stand between them and the Répechage – and the chance to compete on the biggest stage of all at England 2015,” it read.

The IRB were of course aware that the story of a textbook 'underdog' team like Cyprus ending up in a pool with England, Wales and Australia would capture the imagination of many across the globe.

However just a few months later in April 2013, Cyprus were told they would not be eligible to enter the qualifying stages for the tournament as they haven't yet secured full membership.

Steps to IRB full membership

1. A Union must apply to become an associate member of its Regional Union
2. After all membership criteria are met, including one year as an associate member, the Union is admitted to the Regional Union as a full member
3. After completion of stages 1 and 2, and two years as a full member of a Regional Union, the Union may then apply to become an Associate member of the IRB. As an associate member, the union can participate in IRB funded tournaments but not the Rugby World Cup
4. Following two years of associate membership of the IRB, the union may then apply to become a Full Member

Interestingly there appears to be exceptions to those rules.

In November 2012, the IRB announced that Greece (Hellenic Federation of Rugby) would be granted full membership on a probationary basis with the comments that: “Despite not meeting all membership criteria owing to the certain unique circumstances in Greece, special dispensation was given for a 12-month probationary period. This was granted to allow the Union every possible opportunity to bolster domestic competition and development programmes.”

It is also the case that the UAE (United Arab Emirates Rugby Association) were fast-tracked to full membership from May 2012 to December 2012. Now the main reason for this was that the Arabian Gulf RFU has been disbanded and the UAE was described as: “A well-structured organisation with full-time administrators. It has 1,300 adult licensed players and a further 4,600 underage players. At domestic level, UAERF runs a seven-team annual domestic 15-a-side premiership and an eight-team conference competition.”

IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset's comments when welcoming the UAE as a full member stated that it was a positive time in the game.

“These are very exciting times for our sport with unprecedented growth and interest around the world. Today's announcement certainly underlines Rugby's ability to reach out to new communities and countries in every region,” he said.

Now Cyprus cannot boast the same structure that the UAE have and indeed have only recently met the criteria required to become an association member by having four clubs.

However compare their playing results – UAE have lost 12 of 15 games, scoring just 17 tries and 184 points and conceding 888. They were beaten 3-106 by Japan in May 2012 and 3-94 by Belgium in December of last year. Greece have been beaten in all three meetings, with 144 points scored and 21 conceded.

Head Coach Paul Shanks and his side surely deserve the chance to try and qualify for the World Cup after their endeavours and it isn't a stretch to say that the 'unique circumstances' that allowed Greece to obtain a probationary membership are going to be pretty similar to those currently hurting Cyprus.

Terms like 'growing the global family' and 'taking tournaments to new territories' feature heavily in IRB reports. That rugby is now played at the University in Nicosia, and TAG in Cyprus schools is down to the success of the Cyprus national team.

Given their remarkable feats on the field and their attempts to grow the game what would be the problem with rewarding that with a probationary membership to allow entry into the qualification knockout stages? If not, why was their specific story promoted by the IRB in the first place?

By Russ Petty