France survived a back-and-forth battle with Ireland to claim the first International Wheelchair Rugby Federation (IWRF) European Division B Championship on Saturday (18 April) in Prague, Czech Republic. The ninth-ranked France took advantage of No. 23 Ireland’s late turnovers for the 56-48 victory, while handing the Irish the silver medal.
Switzerland captured the bronze by beating Poland 42-35.
This was the first division B championship, as the IWRF announced a new divisional format for the European zone. The top six teams from the 2013 championships (Sweden, Denmark, Great Britain, Germany, Belgium and Finland) have automatically qualified for September’s European Championships in Finland. The two remaining spots went to the finalists from the European Division B Championship – France and Ireland. Then the top two teams from the A division will qualify for the Rio 2016 Paralympics.
Both France and Ireland met earlier last week during pool play, with Ireland leading until the third quarter, as it rested its starters for the next day’s semi-final match against Switzerland. Although the young Irish squad fell 58-42 to France on Thursday, its tactic paid off; it defeated Switzerland 50-42 for a guaranteed spot at the European Division A Championship, and Paralympic qualifier, in Finland.
Saturday’s championship game was about bragging rights and rankings. Both teams had already earned their spot to Finland. The fast-paced match began with 16-year-old Irish rookie Thomas Moylan scoring first, followed by France’s Rodolphe Jarlan returning fire. Forced turnovers gave the Irish an early four-point lead. With 3:09 left in the quarter, French coach Olivier Cusin made his first subs, putting in veteran Ryadh Sallem and Nicolas Rioux. A combination of big plays and controversial calls allowed Ireland end the quarter with the 16-12 lead.
The second quarter featured a barrage of big hits and plays. With 3:22 to go, France went ahead by a point and held on to a slim 27-26 halftime lead. But the Irish came back the next quarter to even the game 39-39.
The game came down to the fourth quarter, as France struck first, causing Ireland into a spiral of mistakes and turnovers. Despite its fall, the Irish celebrated still climbed 10 spots in the IWRF rankings, jumping to No. 13 in the world.
Switzerland defeated Poland 42-35 for the silver medal. But the Swiss’ effort wasn’t enough to qualify for the Division A Championship in September. It’s the first time Switzerland won’t be competing at the top level of the European Championship.
Results and standings from other matches at the IWRF European Division B Championship:
7/8th Place – Russia (1-4) vs. Italy (5-0)
Newcomer Russia played Italy in the morning opener for seventh-place bragging rights. The Italians led for most of the game but ran out of gas as the clock ticked down in the fourth. The Russian squad capitalized and came from behind for its only win of the tournament, 47-44. This was Russia’s first appearance at an IWRF sanctioned event.
5/6th Place - Czech Republic (3-2) vs. Austria (2-3)
Host Czech Republic started the tournament with a heartbreaking one-point overtime loss to Poland in the opening game. It battled Austria for fifth place in what looked like would be a win in regulation play but ended up going into overtime. The home-court advantage seemed to propel the Czechs to the 53-51 victory.
France (5-0) - Gold
Ireland (3-2) - Silver
Switzerland (4-1) - Bronze
Poland (2-3) - Fourth place
Czech Republic (3-2) - Fifth place
Austria (2-3) - Sixth place
Russia (1-4) - Seventh place
Italy (0-5) - Eighth place
Watch replays of any of the games at www.iwrf.com.