Europe’s top wheelchair rugby teams meet in Koblenz, Germany this week at the IWRF 2017 European Division A Championships. Eight teams will meet over five days of competition in hopes of being crowned European champion, and earning one of four European spots at next year’s IWRF World Championship in Sydney, Australia
Here’s a preview of the preliminary round that starts tomorrow (27 June).
Sixth ranked Sweden is the top seed in Pool A and despite some retirements post-Rio they return the starting four that led them to a silver at the last European Championships return. The Swedes get a lot of production from their low-pointers with 0.5 Glen Adaszak and the deep threat of 1.0 Steffan Jansson to complement their high pointers 3.5 Tobias Sandberg and the composed 2.5 Thomas Hjert.
Seventh ranked France will be right on their heels and will be looking to make it onto the podium for the first time. 3.0 Jonathan Hivernat emerged as the team’s number one last year and has fantastic agility and should have a great battle with Sweden’s 3.5 Tobias Sandberg on Day 1
Host team Germany hasn’t medaled since 2009, but will be looking to return to the podium in front of their fans. The Germans are known for their great low-pointers including World All-Star 1.5 Thomas Schwje, but have found a new featured ball-handler in 3.5 Marco Herbst, who debuted at last year’s Metro Cup and is one to watch for.
Finland enters the championship, but could be a real dark horse thanks to the two new and young 3.5's on their roster. In modern rugby a powerful hi-pointer can change the entire look of a team and Finland’s two high point rookies have plenty of veterans to learn from. Former European MVP Leevi Ylonnen returns and the diminutive 3.0 should cause defenders plenty of problems.
Defending champion and fifth-ranked Great Britain open the competition as the favorites as they return seven athletes from the Rio squad including star 3.0 Jim Roberts and World All-Star Jonathan Coggan. Team GB hasn’t lost a sanctioned match against a European team since the semifinals of the 2013 European Championships, but that’s doesn’t mean they won’t have any challengers.
Eighth ranked Denmark will be looking to upset the Brits and move up the podium after winning bronze and silver at the past two European Championships. The Danes will be led by a new head coach Paralympic gold medalist Jason Regier, who inherits an experienced and powerful squad with a developing star in 3.5 Sebastien Fredericksen.
Joining Great Britain and Denmark in Pool B are 11th ranked Ireland, and 14th ranked Poland. The Irish are an improving side with a dangerous hi-lo line led by 2015 European Championship MVP 3.5 Thomas Moylan and veteran 1.0 Alan Lynch.
Poland comes into the championship with momentum after winning the B division last year. Their balanced style of play that highlights their 2.0s Rafal Rocki and Kryzystov Kapuska contrasts the hi-lo line-ups that many teams are starting to prefer. Offensively Poland share the ball and are very patient and have the size to throw some big hits on the other end.