There must be something very special about Andy Binikos, the Cyprus national rugby coach, because he has been appointed to one of the most prestigious roles in international club rugby – the general manager and head coach of the Natal Sharks Rugby Academy, in Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa.
He takes up the position this weekend.
Binikos has played rugby for the Cyprus Moufflons since the first game against Greece in 2007 and continued until, as travelling coach, he was forced to take to the field to replace an injured player in the final of the European Nations Sevens Cup in Poland last summer.
It was said by Loukis Pattihis, then president of the Cyprus Rugby Federation, that “Binikos plays for a different planet.”
Not a pearl among swine, but a diamond among gemstones.
It was the presence of players of such quality that enabled the impoverished and nationally neglected Moufflons to battle through the European Nations Cup divisions to set the world record, which they still hold, of 24 straight wins over a period of six years.
The record is something that Binikos is very proud of and he believes it will remain in place for years to come.
Binikos is of Greek/Cypriot parentage and was born in South Africa in 1982. He won a sports scholarship to boarding school and to university. He is an all-round sportsman, playing squash and tennis in addition to rugby.
South Africa is a rugby-mad country and Natal is the quintessence of that culture. Binikos captained Natal University’s rugby team for three years and then moved to College Rovers in Durban and was with them when they won the cup and league two years in a row.
His talent was noticed by the Natal Sharks, one of the most successful clubs in world rugby, and they signed him up for their Currie Cup squad.
In addition to being the Cyprus coach, he was player/coach for Currie R.F.C. in the Scottish First Division until 2012 when he moved to Musselburgh R.F.C. as backline and assistant coach and saw them promoted to National League 1.
He was appointed Cyprus coach after the sudden departure of Dai Llewellyn who was approached by the Rugby Union in England to join their permanent staff.
It seems that a period as national coach of Cyprus is a guarantee of higher things: Nial Doherty went on to coach Greece and Turkey.
The old perennial, Paul Shanks, was retained to coach the military and Binikos went to one of the most powerful clubs in the world.
The Sharks play in Super Rugby, comprising the best club sides in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. This season it will embrace additions from Argentina and Japan.
The Sharks have produced some of the great names of Springbok rugby. Their elite academy, which takes young players still in education and develops their rugby, strength and conditioning, has brought to the international field brilliant native African players.
The academy is home to dozens of native players just waiting to show the world their skills.
Binikos is one of the youngest national coaches, and now it seems he is destined for even higher matters.
He has said that he will continue with the Moufflons in spite of his heavy schedule.
“The Moufflons are an amazing bunch of guys who in spite of the extreme difficulties they face, never give up. I was so proud to be part of the team and now have the honour of being their coach,” he said.
“Our current league is very tough, but I know we can survive it, and I am determined that we shall.”
The supporters and team look forward to his return to the island for the next home game against Croatia.
Laurence Vassilades, President of the Cyprus Rugby Federation, said: “Andrew has been a wonderful player for us, and we hope to retain his skills as coach for as long as we can.
“His appointment to the Sharks is marvellous and we all share in it. We wish him and his wife Stephanie every success and hope they settle comfortably in their new environment.”