Oval Talk

Record-chasing minnows on World Cup trail

Who is the most in-form team in international rugby?

Maybe South Africa, fresh from a clean sweep of victories on their European tour?

Or France, whose trio of autumn international wins included at 33-6 demolition of Australia?

Whoever you said, it's fairly certain you weren't thinking of Cyprus - yet the Mediterranean island's team are just one game off equalling the longest winning streak in international history.

Their 49-8 win against Slovenia on Saturday was their 17th consecutive victory dating back to 2009. Only Lithuania have managed more.

It is an amazing achievement for a country with virtually no rugby heritage, and whose team receives no financial assistance.

Cyprus do not even have a world ranking, yet their feats have got them dreaming of World Cup qualification.

But while the big guns already know their main group stage rivals in 2015, the men known as the Moufflons face a long road to England.

If they are to make it to the big dance, they must negotiate no fewer than eight rounds - a group followed by a succession of knockout games all played away against increasingly tough opposition.

Here's what they must do:

- Win European Nations Cup Division 2C - the win against Slovenia put them top with two wins from two.
- Beat the winner of European Nations Cup Division 2D in a straight knock-out - likely to be Norway or Greece.
- Beat the winner of European Nations Cup Division 2B in a straight knock-out - Israel are favourites to win that
- Beat the winner of European Nations Cup Division 2A in a straight knock-out - Netherlands currently lead the way
- Beat the winner of European Nations Cup Division 1B in a straight knock-out - Germany, Ukraine and Poland are possible opponents
- Beat the third-place team from of European Nations Cup Division 1A in a straight knock-out - Georgia, Romania, Russia and Spain are among the Division 1A sides.

ONLY THEN WOULD CYPRUS QUALIFY FOR THE REPECHAGE COMPETITION

- Win a repechage semi-final against a team from Africa, the Americas or Asia.
- Win a two-legged final against the other semi-final winner.

Easy! And Bingo! Cyprus are in the World Cup!

And if they maintain their winning streak throughout the qualifying process, it will stand at an amazing 31 games.