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Australia lose World Championship final
Australia has been defeated in the gold medal match at the World Wheelchair Rugby Championships today in Vancouver, Canada, going down 57-45 to the United States of America.
Uncharacteristic errors and two flagrant fouls plagued the Australian Steelers, who were chasing their first ever gold medal at a World Wheelchair Rugby Championships.
Instead, the Americans rose to the occasion to win their fourth gold from five World Championships, and continue their reign in the sport after also winning gold at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games.
The silver medal was Australia’s best finish at a World Championships, but that came as little comfort to Australian head coach Brad Dubberley, who was left to lament some crucial mistakes from his men in the first half, upon which the Americans capitalised.
“We had such an awesome build-up to the final, but to get there and then play our worst game of the Championships is so disappointing,” Dubberley said.
“Obviously we were playing a great opponent in the USA, but I can’t remember playing a worst game. We made so many errors and dumb plays.
“Maybe we had too much of an easy draw to get to the final. A few harder games would have been better. But there’s nothing you can do about that. You play who you play.
“It’s very disappointing. Today was a great chance for us to become World Champions but we didn’t perform when we needed to.”
In front of a packed house at Richmond Olympic Oval, the Australian Steelers made the worst possible start when three errors in the first minute of play gifted the Americans the first three goals.
“We started poorly, but we’re the sort of team that prides ourselves on being able to come back. We are a mentally strong team but for whatever reason, it all fell apart today,” Dubberley said.
“Errors steamrolled us, and there were moments when it seemed that some players’ minds just weren’t on the job. That can’t happen if you expect to win a World Championship.”
The Australians’ cause wasn’t helped when Ryley Batt (second quarter) and Steve Porter (third quarter) both committed flagrant fouls, resulting in both men being sent from the court for three minutes, or until the opposition had scored three goals.
With the extra-man advantage for that extended period of time, the American offence was impossible to contain.
After they took a 30-22 lead into half-time, the reigning world champions outscored the Steelers 27-23 in the second half to complete the 12-goal victory.
It was the Americans’ second consecutive triumph over Australia at a major championship, and the third in 10 years, following dual wins in the gold medal matches at the Paralympic Games in 2008 and 2000.
“It’s devastating. I can’t really put my finger on what went wrong today. All I know is that they had done their homework on us,” Australian co-captain Ryan Scott said.
“We’re very disappointed. We thought we had the team to win this World Championship.
“In Beijing in 2008, we probably over-achieved and were grateful to get so far and win a silver medal. But here, we put a lot more in to our preparation. We did all the right things on and off the court, and to put all that effort in and then come out today and lose, it’s shattering.”
Since the first World Wheelchair Rugby Championships were held in 1995, the Australians had won just one medal, a bronze in 2002.
Their focus now turns immediately to the London Paralympic Games in 2012.
“We have learnt so many lessons at this tournament that are going to help us at the Paralympic Games in London,” Australian player Ryley Batt said.
“When it’s all said it done, the London Paralympics is the one that matters. We just need to keep our heads high and train harder over the next two years. We’re not the best, but we need to become the best and we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Batt scored 23 goals for the Australians and was again the best player from both sides on court, while Steelers co-captain Cameron Carr (eight goals), Bryce Alman (six goals), Steve Porter (four goals), Josh Hose (four goals), and Andrew Harrison (one) were the other scorers.
In the bronze medal match, Japan defeated Sweden 53-48 to claim their first medal of any colour at a World Championships or Paralympic Games.
World Championships Final Standings
6. Great Britain
9. New Zealand
Australian Steelers (click each name to read their profile)
2 Naz Erdem (VIC)
3 Ryley Batt (NSW)
4 Josh Hose (VIC)
7 Jason Lees (VIC)
8 Bryce Alman (VIC)
11 Ryan Scott (QLD) Co-Captain
12 Steve Porter (SA)
13 Cameron Carr (QLD) Co-Captain
15 Andrew Harrison (VIC)
By Tim Mannion