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Cyprus Rugby Federation – Development of “Elite” Players

To demonstrate the CRF Development model, we use 2 individuals as examples of how the system can work; turning fledgling novices into “elite” senior players. These individuals were both members of the CRF Academy; Fidias Efthymiou and Marko Mladenovic. Whilst Fidias was born and bred in Cyprus, Marko moved to the Country whilst an infant and is a Cypriot passport holder.  Having been educated in Cyprus, more recently, they have moved to the UK for educational reasons, taking up studies at the University of West England in Bristol. Starting their rugby in the Limassol Crusaders Academy, taking part in the FIRA AER U17 led training camp with Greece, through the CRF Academy; both players have gone on to represent Cyprus in XVs and Sevens.

In their own words, outlined below are some key facts on their respective development:

fidiasFidias Efthymiou

What age did you start to play rugby? 14.

What were your first experiences? I had a few injuries, some non-rugby related, but I then got into the sport; especially during the U17 training camp in Pafos (Cyprus and Greece) and when we played Greece away at U18 level. I was playing with all my friends and really enjoying my rugby at junior level but never really got enough games at the time.

When did you first play for Limassol? The big step up was when I played for Limassol at the age of 17.

When did you start to get involved in National Set-up (age)? Thought it was going to be the same as junior level but I soon found out it was not. It started going downhill, but I sat down with Marko and we figured it out; we worked harder, watched more games, we attended every training session we could and practised our passing every Sunday and generally played more games to get the experience.

What age were you when first capped? I was capped on my 18th birthday against Monaco, great experience, after being dropped from the Israel selection; I thought I was never going to make it into the side.

Best/Greatest moment? Best experience has to be turning up for my first training session with the National Senior Squad; all the boys were there from the 3D Tournament. It made me feel that I was part of something great and I was not wrong. I have played a bit in France and in the UK but wearing the Cyprus shirt is different. The day you put it on you make a commitment to your nation and to your Brothers and you have to stick to that commitment, no matter what!

Best moment has to be scoring against Greece.

Anything else to add about your experiences? We have been told many times that the standard of Rugby in Cyprus is poor and you will probably never make it as a rugby player, well hopefully myself and Marko are examples of where this is untrue. In Marko’s first year he made the UWE 1st XV playing in the UK University Premiership. I had trials for the French Premiership Side Clermont and I am now playing in the UK National 2 League on a regular basis. It does not matter what you are told or where you are, as long as you want to do it!

Playing on the wing or in the centre, Fidias has been capped for Cyprus on 9 occasions; he has travelled to a variety of countries including Greece, Monaco, and Luxembourg.  He currently plays his senior rugby for UWE 1st XV and Dings Crusaders. He has also represented Cyprus at Sevens having taken part in 2 European Championship Tournaments.

marko_mladMarko Mladenovic

What age did you start to play rugby? 13.

What were your first experiences? Rugby was quite difficult to grasp in the beginning, the nature of the game was something that was completely foreign to me at the time. I was never a natural, however I was attracted by the physicality of game and the challenge that the game posed. I absolutely loved it and still do to this day!  I really enjoyed my experiences at the U17 Training Camp that was held in Pafos with Greece.

When did you first play for Limassol? I started playing for Limassol just following my 17th birthday.

When did you start to get involved in National Set-up (age)? Around the age of 16, the National Coaches Paul Shanks and Niall Doherty were very keen to get the youngsters involved in the Cyprus team training sessions, encouraging us to soak up the skills and knowledge from the more experienced players.

What age were you when first capped? 17 and 340 days.

When did you first appear for the Sevens team? Summer 2009 in Athens.

Best/Greatest moment? This is difficult. There were many great moments. One I will always remember is my debut, in fact the whole build up to the Azerbaijan game. That hotel, the lack of sleep, the conditions we were subjected to - it truly tested our mettle; it was a game that was important for so many reasons, a turning point in Cyprus rugby and an honour to be a part of it. The buzz I got when I ran on to the field was incredible, the feeling is just as strong now, whenever I put the shirt on.

Anything else to add about your experiences? Me and Fidias Efthymiou went to an U18 rugby camp in the UK working with London Irish, it was organised by Phillipos Kyriacou who at the time played for Cyprus and worked for London Irish. Surprisingly, we really stood out from the rest of the locals (Fidias won the most valuable player of the camp award). Our physicality stood out most above anything - playing against Fijians in the Cyprus league at the age of 17 really paid off.

A lot of appreciation and gratitude has to go the way the more experienced players took us under their wings and nurtured us. George Agathocleous, Tony Thoma, Chris Thoma and Dimitri Maratheftis all played a massive role in our development as rugby players. They have put so much into Cyprus Rugby - you would never dream of ever letting them down on the pitch!

Playing in the back row, Marko has been capped for Cyprus on 10 occasions, he has travelled to a variety of countries including Azerbaijan, Greece, Monaco, and Luxembourg.  He currently plays his senior rugby for UWE 1st XV and Stratford-upon-Avon RFC. He has also represented Cyprus at Sevens having taken part in 6 European Championship Tournaments.