France become team to beat at 2022 Wheelchair Rugby World Championship

France and Japan finish at the top of their respective pools at the world championships in Vejle, Denmark, with quarterfinals to take place 14 October 14 Oct 2022
Two wheelchair rugby players reach for a ball
France will face hosts Denmark in the quarterfinals.
ⒸLars Møller for Parasport Danmark
By Ayano Shimizu | For the IPC

France became the team to beat at the 2022 Wheelchair Rugby World Championship, staging a pair of dramatic victories against Paralympic champions Great Britain and the United States to advance to the elimination round at the top of their pool.

The hosts of the next Paralympic Games finished the group stage with a 5-0 record in Pool A to set up a quarterfinal clash against home team Denmark. Defending champions and Tokyo 2020 bronze medallists Japan won Pool B and will face New Zealand.

Hundreds of fans have flocked to the venue in Vejle, Denmark, to cheer for the home squad, creating an unforgettable atmosphere for all 12 teams. The Danish team booked a spot in the quarterfinals with two wins and three losses.

In total, eight teams – four from each pool – advanced to the first-ever quarterfinals to be staged at the wheelchair rugby world championships level.

France thrive in Vejle

Arriving in Vejle as the European champions, world No. 5 France impressed in a difficult Pool A that also featured New Zealand, Germany and Switzerland.

After comfortably defeating lower-ranked New Zealand and Switzerland, France edged past world No. 2 Great Britain and No. 3 USA by one try on Wednesday.

“What we showed today is that we beat the No. 2 and No. 3 team in the world, and I think that’s what we’re here for. We have the ambition to go for a medal and I think we’re right there,” France coach Bob Vanacker said following the team’s 55-54 win over Great Britain.

With two years to go until the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games, the French players already have their eyes set on reaching the podium on home soil.

“Definitely we want to medal at Paris 2024," said player Adrien Chalmin, adding that Paris 2024 will be his last Games. "We know that we need to improve a lot until Paris because we need to learn a lot more things."

Japan prove unstoppable

Ranked No. 1 in the world, Japan improved the quality of their play as they entered more matches in Vejle.

In the team’s second pool match, they allowed Denmark to briefly take a lead before coming from behind for a 61-60 win.

Their final pool clash was a rematch of last year’s bronze medal game against Australia at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games and, once again, Japan came out victorious. 

Coming into the match with identical 4-0 records, the two sides exchanged tries before Japan’s red-hot offence, led by captain Yukinobu Ike and Daisuke Ikezaki, sealed the game 56-54.

Japan are the defending champions from the 2018 Wheelchair Rugby World Championship. @Lars Møller for Parasport Danmark

“Without doubt, I feel like the team is so much better compared with the first match we played here (a 60-34 win over Colombia),” Ike said.

“Mentally speaking, this was the toughest match for us in the preliminary round. It’s really great that we were able to win all five of our matches here so far.” 

Big party in Denmark

Meanwhile, Denmark used the support of their home fans to their full advantage as they advanced to the knockout stage. They finished fourth in Pool B behind Japan, Australia and Canada.

Hundreds of supporters in red jerseys cheered for the home team at every game. The crowds included family and friends of the players, as well as students from local schools and people who watched wheelchair rugby for the first time.

Denmark beat world championship debutants Brazil 62-45 and Colombia 52-44, but lost to Japan, Australia and Canada.

More than 1,000 people attended Denmark's match against Colombia. @Lars Møller for Parasport Danmark

Other action

After suffering an upset to France, the four-time world champions USA finished pool play in fashion by taking down Great Britain 55-49 and securing second place in Pool A. Sarah Adam, one of the 13 female players in Vejle, was named player of the match.

World championship debutants Brazil ended the group stage without a win, but head coach Rafael Gouveia said there were many lessons learned from participating in the tournament, which will benefit the future of wheelchair rugby in the country.

Brazil will next face Germany in Friday's placement match. Germany finished fifth in Pool A with a 1-4 record.

Next stop, quarterfinals

The eight teams that reached the quarterfinals are France, the United States, Great Britain, New Zealand, Japan, Australia, Canada and Denmark.

The semifinals will take place on Saturday followed by the medal round on Sunday, 16 October.

Live streams of the matches can be watched on the official 2022 Wheelchair Rugby World Championship website.