VILNIUS: Mighty minnows Lithuania paid tribute on Monday to the Wallabies for halting the All Blacks' unbeaten run, which threatened to end the Baltic nation's oddball record for the longest series of victories in the sport.
The Lithuanian Rugby Federation's general secretary Irmantas Kukulskis told AFP they had been waiting with bated breath as the All Blacks edged ever closer to their 18-match record, recognised by the International Rugby Board.
New Zealand's 16-match run ended when the Wallabies held them 18-18 in the Bledisloe Cup in Brisbane on Saturday.
"We were waiting for this moment and today we can only thank the Australian national team for helping us to keep this record," Kukulskis told AFP.
"Rugby is not very popular in Lithuania. We're amateurs and the federation's run by enthusiasts," he said.
"So we're very glad and proud to have such a record," he added, although the Lithuanians are fully aware that their unbeaten run came against much smaller fry than the All Blacks' opponents.
Lithuania play in European rugby's third tier -- not counting the top-flight Six Nations, from which promotion and relegation are not automatic.
In April 2010 they chalked up their 18th consecutive victory, in a European Nations Cup match against Serbia. Their four-year winning streak ended a month later when they lost to Ukraine in a Rugby World Cup qualifier.
"We are a small country, and this record attracts attention. It's a pleasure to hear the name of Lithuania among such greats as Australia or New Zealand," said Kukulskis.
"This is sport, and we understand the record may be broken one day," he added.
The sport is very much a minority interest in the republic of three million people, where basketball is king. But there are enough hardy souls to run a domestic league and a national team whose members include a handful who play in Sweden or English rugby's lower tiers.
Lithuania only returned to the global sporting fold after breaking free from five decades of Soviet rule in 1990.