3 storylines to watch at the IWRF European Championship
By Nathan Bragg
The 2015 IWRF European Division A Championships tip-off on Tuesday as eight teams vie for European supremacy and one of two spots in the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. Here are three storylines to watch for as the games unfold.
Threepeat for Sweden
Sweden comes into this year’s event as the back-to-back European champions, and they’re aiming for their first three-peat and a record fifth European Title. Currently ranked seventh in the world and led by 2.5 Thomas Hjert and 1.0 Stefan Jansson. The team’s core is experienced and has been in many big games. The Swedes always seem to peak at the European Championship, but this year they will face stiff competition from Great Britain and their star 3.0 Jim Roberts, who at fifth in the world are the highest ranked European team.
Denmark are another leading challenger and the favourite in Pool B thanks to their string of strong performances in the past few two years including a silver medal at the last European Championships in Belgium, and a sixth-place finish at the 2014 IWRF World Championship.
Sweden will get an opportunity to make a statement early as they face the Brits on Thursday in pool play as both teams fight for an early edge in their quests for a record fifth European title.
There are a number of bright young stars in the European Zone that could breakout in Finland. The Irish duo of 17 year-old 3.5 Thomas Moylan and 22 year-old, 3.0 Alan Dinnen put the rugby world on notice at the IWRF European B Division Championships in Prague with a powerful performance as ball carriers in the Irish hi-lo and will be counted on to deliver in Finland.
Joining the Irish duo as young stars to watch are a handful of young hi-pointers including 21 year-old Dane 3.5 Sebastian Fredriksen and 20 year-old 2.5 Coral Batey of Great Britain who is coming off of a fantastic showing at the 2015 Japan Para Championships. At the other end of the classification scale, French 1.0 Pablo Neuman will anchor many of his nation’s line-ups and provide strong leadership despite being only 21 years of age.
These young stars are proof that both the present and future of European wheelchair rugby is very bright.
More so than any other Zone, the European Zone is full of surprises. From Belgium’s championship run in 2009, to France’s rapid rise in 2011, and Poland’s surprising fall in 2013. With the new eight-team format there is less separating the teams, which leaves the door open to more shocks in 2015.
Host nation Finland comes into the event ranked fifth out of the eight teams, but 3.0 Leevi Yllonen could spark a run in front of the home fans.
Ireland is another team capable of pulling off a couple upsets fresh off a run in Prague that saw captain 1.0 Alan Lynch claim MVP honours while leading his team up the world ranking lists.
Belgium has seen a dip in form since London, but they are an incredibly experienced group who have tasted glory before and might have a bit of magic left in them to shock one of the favourites.
The first upset could come as early as the first day when bottom-seeded Ireland takes on host Finland in what should be a great match between two teams that employ similar line-ups.
Watch the live webcast of all 20 games @ www.wrec2015.fi/en.