Support through Sport UK's Ed Uff covered the World Wheelchair Rugby Challenge ...
It was with some excitement that I returned to the Copper Box Arena at the London Olympic Park for the first time since the summer of 2012. I was at the Arena for the semi-finals of the World Wheelchair Rugby Challenge. Wheelchair Rugby is described on the International Wheelchair Rugby Federation website thusly:
“Wheelchair Rugby is a mixed team sport for male and female quadriplegic athletes. A unique sport created by athletes with a disability, it combines elements of rugby, basketball and handball. Players compete in teams of four to carry the ball across the opposing team's goal line. Contact between wheelchairs is permitted, and is in fact an integral part of the sport as players use their chairs to block and hold opponents.”
It is this ‘contact between wheelchairs’ that has made the sport so well known, and is the origin of the sport’s rather appropriate nickname: murderball - so named because of the ferocity of the wheelchair on wheelchair collisions that are part and parcel of the game.
Unfortunately Great Britain had failed to make it through the group stages and so the first semi saw the USA face off against reigning world champions Australia.
The game was played at a breakneck pace from the start. Australia went ahead early in the first quarter, but were quickly pegged back by their American rivals, and it was the USA who took a two point lead into the second quarter. The game remained tight throughout the next two quarters, the lead never stretching beyond four points, but the USA managed to keep their noses in front, which proved crucial in the fourth quarter. With Australia unable to eat into the USA lead, their resistance was finally broken and the lead was stretched to six, effectively ending the contest and carrying the USA into the tournament final.
The second semi saw Canada take on Japan, who had been responsible for knocking Great Britain out of the tournament 24 hours earlier. The first half was a tight affair, but the game hinged on a short period either side of half time. Canada led by three at the end of the first quarter, but Japan cut the lead to two, which is how it stayed for most of the second quarter. With the help of some excellent defence and clock management, Canada stretched the lead to five in the dying moments of the half. With a quick score at the start of the third period, their lead amounted to six, and they rarely looked like losing thereafter. Japan kept coming, but could not force enough turnovers from Canada, frequently leaving the back of the court empty with their high pressing, allowing Canada’s Zack Madell to score time and again. By the end of third period, Canada led by 11, rendering the fourth quarter something of a formality. Both sides cleared their benches in the final minutes of the game and Canada ultimately took the game 60-50.
Throughout the night the competition was fierce and the skill level high - a great advert for the sport.