The Australian Steelers have beaten Canada to win the 2023 International Wheelchair Rugby Cup in Paris.
The men’s team are set to start among the favourites for Paralympic gold next year, also in the French capital, after storming to a 53-48 victory against the Canadians.
The second-ranked Australians led from start to finish, with superstar Ryley Batt turning over Canada’s first attacking raid to set up an early try.
The men in gold led 26-25 at halftime, with the third quarter proving decisive as Batt combined repeatedly with captain Chris Bond to stretch Australia’s lead.
It was sweet revenge for the Steelers who lost 49-48 to Canada in their opening pool match.
They bounced back from that defeat to down reigning Paralympic champions Great Britain and world championship semi-finalists Denmark in the pool round.
They progressed to the final with a gutsy 52-48 win over Asia-Oceania champions Japan in the semi-final, breaking a four-year losing streak against their arch-rivals in the process.
Australia coach Brad Dubberley said it took a big effort from his world champion team to take the trophy.
“I’m super-proud of this team – it’s been an awesome campaign in lots of ways,” Dubberley said of the side, which won the world titles in Denmark last year.
“Not just the results, but the way we have been able to put some good minutes (on court) into the players, we just continue to grow and build.
“Absolutely everyone jumped in and contributed to this win.”
The Steelers’ next major assignment is the Paris 2024 qualification tournament in New Zealand from March 18-22 next year.
“We’ve got some other players back home who will come into this team before Paralympics so there are a lot positives for us,” Dubberley said.
“The sky is the limit. This isn’t the finished product, so I’m really looking forward to what we can produce in some big tournaments coming up.”
(Australian Associated Press)