The squad made its usual tour of Europe via Vienna to arrival in Sarajevo late on Thursday night. They were met by an extremely friendly and hospitable Bosnian guide – to be told the coach had broken down! After a short wait the squad made its way to its base for the next two days – Zenica, the heart of Bosnian Rugby, where the game was to be played on Saturday Afternoon in one of the newly built athletic and sporting complexes that the city boasts.
A number of squad training sessions had been organised by the coaching staff, only to be curtailed by the extreme weather conditions. Boosted by the arrival of Lawrence Macrides and George Theodoulou directly from the UK, the squad was now complete and ready to do battle.
Following a over-night snow storm there was initial doubt whether the game would proceed but by kick off time, the snow had all but cleared, however the temperature was a low 2 degrees C.
Following the usual tradition of anthems, the match kick off on time. Early signs were good for the Cyprus team with early pressure being applied in the break down for the Bosnians to concede an early penalty, which was missed by Marcus Holden – not the best conditions to take place kicks made worse by the unsavoury football-like chants of the partisan crowd. Pressure continued to be applied with 50/50 ball been fought and won by the scavenging Cypriot back-row of Dan McFarlane, AJ Pugh and Chris Thoma.
Late entry into a breakdown by the Bosnian blindside flanker led to a blood injury to wing Andreas Zacharia but the penalty was once again missed by Holden. Although foul play was suspected the referee decided a stern reprimand would suffice. As the game continued the Cypriot forwards, in particular the tight five, began to nominate the set piece. The Bosnians left it until the half hour point to enter the Cyprus 22. This time, Cyprus were guilty of slowing the passage of play up and the resulting easy penalty was missed by the Bosnian kicker who elected to take a hurried drop goal which went wide.
The Cyprus team rallied and managed to push the Bosnians back into their half, only for silly mistakes to be made which either penalties or lost territory conceded. Their second excursion into the Cypriot 22 added further pressure to the Cypriot team, which eventually led to a Yellow Card being issued to Cypriot prop Christo Kasabi for a professional foul. The resulting penalty was tapped by the home team and wave after wave of attack was repelled. The first half ended 0-0.
The second half saw a change of tactics by the Bosnians who elected to start an aerial bombardment on the Cypriot back 3. However, well rehearsed counter-attacking options were taken and slowly the game start to swing back in the favour of the visitors. This was short-lived as 2 quick successive penalty kicks took the home team to a 6-0 lead. Shortly after this Marcus Holden found his kicking boots to narrow the gap to 6-3. Dominance of both line-out and scrum by the Cyprus forwards led to a scrum deep in the Bosnian half. A pick-up by No 8 Chris Thoma, followed by quick interchange with Scrum-half Dimitri Maratheftis led to the only try of the match, with Chris Thoma crossing the line to take the Cypriots to an all important lead.
The last 20 minutes were dominated by the Cyprus forwards applying huge amounts of pressure at the set piece. Everything was going forward with a further penalty conceded by the Home side which failed to be converted. The defence held strong and despite attempts by the slick Bosnian back they were unable to leave their own half. Shortly afterwards the referee blown his whistle for the final time – final score, Bosnia Herzegovina 6 – Cyprus 8.
Credit must go to every single player who was involved in this game, to take victory from the league favourites in their own back garden was an outstanding achievement. Every single member of the squad richly deserves the result for all the sacrifices that they have made to be there, they should be very proud of themselves, as Cyprus should be of this exciting emerging sport.
The result means that Cyprus now sits at the top of European Nations Cup Division 3D after its first round of games. Winning 4 from 4. Focus now turns to the European Sevens Championships in Split and Athens in late May. With a huge and dedicated effort by staff and players alike, rugby in Cyprus is definitely on the up!!
Thanks to Paul Shanks for the Game Review.