As unlikely as it may sound, the rugby minnows of Lithuania are still in with a chance of reaching next year's Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, and owe their position to a remarkable sequence of matches.
The Lithuanians head into their European Nations match against
Switzerland this weekend with a chance to create rugby history in
becoming the first country to win 18 consecutive tests.
If they do record a likely victory against Switzerland, a team 21 places below them in the IRB World Rankings and whom they beat 33-0 in their last encounter, the men from Vilnius will achieve something not even the All Blacks or Springboks have managed.
Both New Zealand and South Africa currently jointly hold the
record with 17 straight victories - the All Blacks' run
stretching from 1965 to 1969 and the current World Champions'
between 1997 and 1998 - although both the Black Ferns and England
have surpassed the number in the women's game.
The last time Lithuania tasted defeat was 6 May 2006, 22-0 away to Slovenia, and captain Mindaugus Miscevicius believes a victory could further raise the profile of the sport in Lithuania.
"All of my team mates are pretty excited. Everybody wants to go for that record. The rugby community in Lithuania is very excited, it is not usual to get such a record," Miscevicius told Total Rugby.
"The game is becoming quite popular because of this record.
Hearing that they can play rugby in Lithuania people are very
interested and as soon as they take part in competition they like
it. The biggest sports are still football and basketball but rugby
is becoming more popular."
A win against Switzerland this weekend would also maintain the team's confidence heading into the toughest of all their RWC 2011 qualifying play-offs, against Ukraine in May. As it stands, however, the Lithuanians are still in with a chance of reaching New Zealand.
A 6-3 victory over Netherlands in Vilnius last year continued
their qualifying dream and it is a match Miscevicus singled out as
the toughest in their run. Now, though, he insists neither the
record nor thoughts of Ukraine will distract his team in
preparation for Switzerland.
"It was a very tough game with Holland - it was the toughest. The pool games with Switzerland and Serbia are the most important games to come though, then the RWC qualifier with Ukraine.
"We are not nervous, it's not a special game. The record is there to achieve but it is just another usual game for us - if we beat the record we will feel very great about it after," added Miscevicus.
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