Balance key to rugby's growth in Cyprus

(IRB.COM) Friday 16 November 2007
 
 Balance key to rugby's growth in Cyprus
Cyprus' first ever match was against Greece in March 2007 - Photo: Cyprus Rugby Federation

Few players have the honour of captaining their national side on their debut, but Jonathan Pettemerides did just that on the historic occasion of Cyprus’ first ever match against neighbours Greece in Paphos back in March.

The flanker, who plays his rugby with English club London Scottish National League Three South, did not disappoint with a man of the match performance as Cyprus ran out 39-3 winners to win the Independence Cup the nations will now play for every year.

Total Rugby Radio caught up with Pettemerides earlier this week to find out how the forward, who spent a season playing for his hometown club Bath Rugby in 2003, found himself stepping out onto the international stage with Cyprus.

“I got the call before the first ever game between Cyprus and Greece back in March,” Pettemerides. “It came a little bit unexpectedly. At first it was just an invitation to come and train with the guys in Cyprus who had been preparing on the island and working hard out there.

“One thing led to another and about a week before the first game I was offered the captaincy, which is obviously a huge honour and I was absolutely delighted not only to play but to lead the side in the first ever game.”

Development the priority

Pettemerides, who qualifies for Cyprus through his grandfather, was not the only overseas player to receive such a call with others flying in from to join the home-based players in the camp as news of the national team plans spread by word of mouth.

However for Pettemerides the make-up of the national team must have the right balance to ensure that the sport continues to develop on the island and ensure the future of the Cypriot national team in the years to come.

“I would never turn down the opportunity to play for my country, likewise quite a few of the guys have flown in from South Africa, England and even Scotland. We have all got a reasonable rugby pedigree and hopefully that encourages the home-based players to grow the sport on the island itself – which is the most important thing.

“The website – www.cyprus-rugby.com – has attracted numerous enquiries from different players around the world and it is up to the full-time coaching panel and technical director Niall Doherty to analyse and chose the players he wants to be part of the squad.

“I don’t think it comes down to just ability, but what you are going to offer the team and also getting the balance right between the overseas players and home-based players is absolutely crucial because we are trying to encourage the sport on the island, not repress it.”

No pain, no gain

The fact that Cyprus hosted and won the European Nations Cup Division 3D tournament in two venues – Paphos and Nicosia – from 28 October to 3 November can only have helped in raising awareness of the sport.

Pettemerides captained Cyprus in their opening match against Azerbaijan, but while the hosts ran out 29-0 winners before a crowd of more than 1,000 at the Paphiakos Stadium, the flanker saw his tournament ended after rupturing his cruciate ligament.

“We did win the tournament [they also beat Monaco 19-10 and Slovakia 38-8] which is the main thing and a fantastic achievement, but I’ve ruptured my cruciate ACL ligament in my knee and I will be going for reconstructive surgery on Saturday.

“It was absolutely [worth the pain], it is not about one player, certainly not and the boys did fantastically well to pick up the pieces during the week and go on and record subsequent victories and against Slovakia they were most impressive.”

Listen to the interview with Jonathan Pettemerides on this week's Total Rugby Radio.