Three Storylines for the 2015 World Wheelchair Rugby Challenge
by Nathan Bragg
The BT World Wheelchair Rugby Challenge kicks off today from the Copper Box in London, featuring the world’s top five teams in addition to former Paralympic champions New Zealand, 10th ranked France and South Africa, who will be making their debut outside of the Asia/Oceania Zone.
Movement in the Top 5
After two of three Zonal Championships, the rankings among the top five haven’t changed, but we’re guaranteed three elite match-ups in pool play. Third-ranked United States gets a chance to redeem themselves against Canada in the first game on Monday evening. European champions fifth-ranked Great Britain get a shot at both Japan and reigning Paralympic and World champion Australia, while 3.0 Daisuke Ikezaki and Japan have a chance to make a statement ahead of their zonal championships with a grudge match against the Aussies.
A European team has never been in the world’s top three and Great Britain will hoping to change that in front of their home fans. They come into the competition with momentum after going undefeated in Finland and their starting line-up of 3.0 James Roberts, 2.5 Ayaz Bhuta 2.0 Gavin Walker and 0.5 Johnny Coggan should be up to the challenge that Japan and Australia pose.
Another chance for USA and France?
Both the United States and France were unable to qualify directly for next year’s Paralympics at their respective Zonal Championships. This week’s BT World Wheelchair Rugby Challenge gives them another chance to prove themselves and show the IWRF that they are deserving of a spot in the Paralympic qualifier.
The Americans have never been outside of the top three and under the old system would have received a wildcard spot but this time around they'll have to win their way in. This tournament gives them a chance to reclaim their former world ranking and boost their confidence ahead of the qualifier.
3.0 Chuck Aoki is the American’s go-to high pointer, but the team's real strength in in their depth and versatility at the mid-point classes. The Americans rely on a stable of great 2.0s including Joe Delagrave and Eric Newby, who broke out at the Parapan Am Games.
France on the other hand is trying to show that they deserve an invite after finishing fifth at Europeans. They’ll have three chances in pool play to prove their skills against elite sides and a strong showing may be enough to earn them a spot in the Paralympic qualifier. 3.0 Jonathan Hivernat played well in Finland and will be looking to continue the trend, while 1.5 Cedric Nankin is a match-up nightmare for opposing offensive players.
The World Wheelchair Rugby Challenge will feature several classic rivalries of both wheelchair rugby and the able-bodied game with Canada and the United States starting things off on Monday and the week also featuring games between traditional rugby rivals Great Britain and France, South Africa and New Zealand and a game between the past three Asia/Oceania finalists in Australia and Japan. While not a major event like a Paralympics or a World Championships with plenty of history and pride on the line expect all the teams to give the fans in attendance a real show on their roads to Rio.
for more information visit www.wwrc15.com.