Chief Exec’s World Championship Diary: What a Day!

Indeed what a day! I slept badly last night… actually I have not slept that well since arrival… but on my mind was today’s game knowing that if we could win we would equal the best result that any GB team has ever achieved in a major international tournament. Going through my mind was that we had not achieved better than a 5th position since 2006, and how many times had I watched us come so close? In 2014 we lost out to Canada by 1 point after two periods of extra time; the same happened in Rio – again it was Canada knocking us out by 1 point in extra time. Yet somehow I thought… this team is different. There is such a strong bond between the athletes, such belief and trust, and this extends to the coaches and the small group of staff. You have to want to be part of this group, you have to believe in the cause because the most valuable resource we have is one another. Our funding challenge is well known and yet we have risen above the difficulties that has created, we have learned who our friends are as well as who has turned their heads on us and we have become stronger. So sleep eventually came to me knowing that actually the team would rise to the challenge and ultimately trusting that they would get the job done.

The coach put Jim, Jamie, Chris and Johnny on to start the game – and what a ferocious start it was with both sides crashing into one another and Jim and Jamie from GB and Christophe Salegui and Sebastien Verdin from France cutting through the lines to match one another’s try scoring. It was exciting stuff to watch though probably not great for my blood pressure! There were a couple of shaky moments for GB, once again a line change resulted in an error or two but we stayed cool and calm and in our own time recovered. At the end of Q1 it was 14-14. Nick Cummins came on at the start of Q2 and supporting the cutting runs of Jamie and Jim he made quite an impact. With just over a minute of Q2 gone we had moved ahead by 3 points to lead 17-14 and we were pinning France into their own penalty box and forcing turnovers. With GB exerting constant pressure the score line increased in our favour and by half time it was 25-20. Q3 started and France fought themselves back into the game assisted by errors we made. A flagrant foul awarded against us seemed a harsh decision but nevertheless it helped France to close the gap to 34-31, the closest they had been since just after the start of Q2. At the start of the final quarter the score was at 36-33 to GB and you could sense that we were about to turn the screw! Buoyed by a very noisy gang of GB spectators, Jim and Jamie upped the pace again whilst Johnny and Chris locked the French up – with 3 minutes to go it was clear there was no way back for France and the game finished with a 47-41 win for GB. All the athletes who took the court gave incredible performances and whilst Jim, Jamie and Aaron did the things that made the crowd gasp, it was Johnny and Nick working in the ways that only low pointers do that equally had a huge impact on the result.

Where does that put us now then? Well tomorrow we play what is called the crossover games. Because we finished as runner up in Group B (you will remember we lost a game to the USA) then we play the winner of Group A which is the host and world number one, Australia. The other crossover game involves the winner of Group B – USA – against the runner up of Group A, Japan. The winners of both of these games go on to play in the Gold / Silver medal match on Friday and the losers of both games go on to play in the Bronze medal match. There are no easy games. To be the best in the world you have to play and beat the best in the world. We came here to do that and we have a team which is capable of winning, which we have proved. Tune in again tomorrow at 7am to watch us take on Australia – we are up for it!

And to end… one of the real joys of wheelchair rugby is that at every level it is more than a game, it is a rich community whose athletes and staff compete hard against one another but equally who support and respect one another. I am pictured here after our win with Olivier Cusin the French coach, who like GB is in the process of developing a new and exciting team – he is a generous, thoughtful man and under his coaching and leadership France will increasingly become a team to watch and I wish him and his team well, and we hope to see them in GB in early 2019 for the Quad Nations.

The rest of the day’s results:

Australia 70 – Ireland 40
Japan 52 – Denmark 42
United States 47 – Poland 33
Canada 59 – Colombia 46
Sweden 54 – New Zealand 52
Great Britain 47 – France 41
Australia 65 – Japan 52
United States 54 – Canada 47

David Pond