Australia took down zonal rival Japan for the gold medal at the Wheelchair Rugby Asia-Oceania Championship in Gangneung, South Korea, on Monday.
The 57-55 victory avenged their loss to Japan in the final at the 2018 World Championship on home soil. But Australia would like to repeat Monday’s feat on a bigger stage – the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, in which they directly qualified via the 2018 Worlds.
Australia’s traditional high-low line-up of Ryley Batt (3.5), Chris Bond (3.5), Ben Fawcett (0.5) and Michael Ozanne (0.5) proved potent in the final.
Bond sat out most of the tournament after injuring his shoulder in Australia’s opening game against Thailand, but returned in time for the gold medal game.
“It was always going to be a bit of a grudge match (against Japan),” Bond said.
“They took it off us by one point in Sydney (last year) on our home turf, but now we’re back in Asia and we got one back on them.
“Personally I was out for most of this tournament, but I was lucky I could make it back for the final to help the guys get over the line.
“We haven’t really won an international tournament for a while, it’s been a couple of years now.
“We’ve had a lot of success generally over the last 10 years in the big events, but it’s been a while since we’ve won one.”
The clash between Australia and Japan in the pool phase was even more thrilling, with four overtime periods required before Japan eventually prevailed 70-65.
New Zealand achieve Paralympic dream
Australia were not the only winners at the tournament, with New Zealand reaching their first Paralympics since Beijing 2008 after clinching bronze 50-43 against South Korea.
With Japan already qualified for Tokyo 2020 as the host nation and Australia as the highest finisher at the 2018 World Championship, the winner of the bronze game was assured the qualification spot from the Asia-Oceania zone.
Wheel Blacks’ low-pointer Cody Everson is thrilled to be heading to his first Paralympic Games.
“After my accident and starting to play for the Wheel Blacks, Paralympics was always the pinnacle,” Everson said.
“I’m just glad I’m going to get the opportunity to go there.
“We want to compete with these teams, we don’t just want to go there and take part.
“I don’t think anyone has been to the Paralympics in our team. We’ve got Cam Leslie who’s obviously a Paralympic swimmer.
“He’s actually jumped on a flight to London to try qualify for the Paralympics for swimming, so fingers crossed he gets there for that.”
South Korea finished the tournament fourth, while Thailand were fifth at their first major IWRF event.
The remaining two spots in the wheelchair rugby draw for Tokyo 2020 will be determined at a qualification tournament early next year.