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Steelers commence gold medal campaign
It was a day to savour for the Australian wheelchair rugby team in Icheon, Korea last month.
Not only did the Steelers defeat Japan 59-41 in the gold medal match at the 2011 Asia Oceania Championships, but their 63-37 victory over Korea in the semi-final earlier in the day secured their place at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
Australia and Japan will now represent the Asia Oceania region in the eight-team draw at the Paralympic Games beginning on August 29 next year, joining the United States, Canada, Sweden, Belgium, France and Great Britain.
And although the Australians and Japan are ranked number two and three in the world respectively, a gulf between the two teams was evident all week, and never more so, than in the final.
When the Steelers forced three Japanese turnovers in the opening three minutes of the gold medal match, it was clear that there would not be a surprise ending to the tournament the Steelers simply dominated from the start.
Powerhouse Ryley Batt was at his menacing best in the final, and with co-captains Cameron Carr and Ryan Scott, and led by example as the Steelers converting their leads at every break into the emphatic 18-goal victory.
Australian coach Brad Dubberley was a content man at full-time, and said the Steelers were building perfectly towards their goal of London 2012 Paralympic glory.
“I’m very happy. To peak for a final and to hand it to the number three team in the world like we did tonight is very pleasing,” Dubberley said.
“It was really comprehensive. The guys knew exactly what was expected of them and they went out and did it. The game went to plan, we kept our cools the whole time, and as soon as we got a couple of early turnovers, we just rolled on from there.
“Japan knows now that they are 20 goals away from us, and the other countries are on notice too.
“We’re ready to get to London now and smash it up.”
Chris Bond (eight goals), Scott Vitale (five goals), and Andrew Harrison (four goals) were also impressive in the final, providing quality attacking support for Batt who compiled 33 goals.
“It’s been a great effort all round at this tournament,” Dubberley said.
“The guys will enjoy this, take a few weeks off and then come back ready to get back into hard training to give ourselves the best chance to win gold in London.
“We’re certainly capable of winning that gold medal.”
Japan won their London ticket by defeating New Zealand 47-45 in the other semi-final before the Kiwis went on to defeat Korea 62-44 in the bronze medal match.
Click here to watch the Steelers celebrate their victory.
2011 Asia Oceania Wheelchair Rugby Championships – Icheon, South Korea
Sat Nov 5
STEELERS 74 – Korea 32
STEELERS 60 – Japan 54
Sun Nov 6
STEELERS 57 - New Zealand 52
STEELERS 86 – Korea 33
Mon Nov 7
STEELERS 66 – Japan 50
STEELERS 55 - New Zealand 40
Tue Nov 8
Semi Final – AUSTRALIA 63 - Korea 37
Semi Final – Japan 47 - New Zealand 45
Bronze medal match – New Zealand 62 – Korea 41
Gold medal match – AUSTRALIA 59 – Japan 41
By Tim Mannion
Photos (top-bottom): The Steelers class photo; Chris Bond; Ryley Batt; the team shake hands; Andrew Harrison, Cameron Carr, Josh Hose and Cody Meakin.