Japan were crowned 2018 IWRF World Champions this afternoon following a stunning victory over host nation Australia 62-61. The spectators were also winners as they witnessed wheelchair rugby at its most exciting, with the lead constantly changing as both sides played fast, open rugby. It was Australia who took the lead 15-14 at Q1 only to see it slide away early in Q2 when they conceded a series of turnovers which saw Japan lead at half time 32-28. Australia came out firing at Q3 and quickly turned things around to lead by 2 tries. Most of us thought that Japan had let the game slip and that there would be no way that Australia would let them back into the game but we were soon proved wrong with Ikezaki and Ike combining to create some superb tries and to capitalise on loose balls thrown by the Australians. Kae Kurahashi one of only three female athletes in the whole tournament played a big part in the win positioning herself cleverly in defence to thwart the Australian advance. Going into the final quarter Japan led 45-44 and both sides settled to trade try for try with Japan holding out to win despite Ryley Batt’s attempt to force overtime.
For us it was a disappointing afternoon as the USA outplayed us to win the bronze medal match by 47-36. From the start we struggled to break them down as they denied us space and starved us of the ball. We found it difficult to break their line and they allowed us none of the open play that saw us so nearly take Australia yesterday. Individually there was some small consolation as Jonathan Coggan and Jim Roberts both won best in class awards which was no great surprise as both had an outstanding tournament.
It is unfortunate that our final performance did not match up to the high standard of play we have shown throughout the championship, but we must not allow one game to overshadow what has been a good tournament for us with some outstanding moments. We leave knowing that there is still more to do but confident that our performance trajectory is still upwards and that all teams see us as a realistic threat to their own ambitions. The team believe in one another and in their ability to progress and to medal. I am proud of the commitment shown by everyone this week and by the fact that the team reached the last 4 of the world championship, a position GB has reached on only two other occasions – in 1995 when we lost 41-28 to New Zealand and in 2006 when we lost to Canada 23-19. Interestingly both of the teams who defeated us then are now below us in the world rankings.
So that’s all from me for a while. The General Assembly begins tomorrow and lasts for two days; it’s an important one for GB as Richard Allcroft is standing as a candidate for the next IWRF President and we wish him luck. After that we will all be taking some leave before regrouping in September to review our performances this week and set the performance plan for the next phase of training and competition.
On behalf of us all a massive thank you for all the good wishes that have been tweeted, emailed and seen on Facebook this week, and a massive thank you to all of those who have raised funds and sponsored us so that we can continue this challenging journey to Tokyo – we really are very grateful.