It was a history-making end to a memorable 2018 wheelchair rugby World Championship as Japan lifted the trophy for the first time, stunning Australia 62-61 in front of their home fans at Sydney Olympic Park on Friday (10 August).
The game was regarded as the best World Championship final in the sport’s history.
Australia held a 15-14 advantage at quarter-time, but it was the second period where things began to unravel for the host nation.
Seven turnovers were conceded in the second quarter alone, more than the Steelers had given away in all six matches leading into the decider.
Japan led by as much as five at various stages, but a try on the final whistle from Australian captain Ryley Batt saw them enter the main break 28-32 down.
Australia showed their class in the third period with a relentless display of pressure and they had a two-point buffer inside the final two-and-a-half minutes.
But Japan fought back to lead 45-44 after three quarters.
Both sides began to limit their errors late in the game and continued to exchange the lead.
Japan seized the advantage with less than three minutes to play and made it a two-point buffer with 1:03 left on the clock, which ultimately proved enough.
A last-ditch attempt from Batt was denied by the Japanese defence as the final siren sounded.
‘A really tough match’
Japanese star Daisuke Ikezaki won the tournament’s MVP award and played a crucial role in the battle for gold.
“The first defeat [against Australia in the pool phase] was really tough and there was lots of emotion, but as a team we tried to hold everything back and play together,” Ikezaki said.
“We came back when we took on the USA and it was that moment that we really started focusing and working on the same things. This final match was really tough, but we tried to remember what he have to focus on.”
Ikezaki added that claiming the World Championship and MVP double was the greatest moment of his career and is excited to see what the team can do come Tokyo 2020.
“There’s still many things we have to work on, but this championship gives us huge confidence and could boost us further towards Tokyo 2020,” Ikezaki added.
Batt admitted the Australians put themselves on the back foot with their own mistakes.
“The game was out of our hands, way out of our hands at half-time and I didn’t believe we could get it back,” Batt said. "As much as I’ve got belief in the boys, I really didn’t believe we could get it back, but we were up by two points.
“We’ve been at the top for six years, we’ll still keep our number one seed, but we lost this World Champs to a better team.”
Consolation for USA
The USA recovered from their semi-final loss to Japan with a 47-36 triumph over Great Britain in the bronze medal match.
“I was really pleased with how we played today, we were frustrated after yesterday, but I’m so proud of our guys and how well we came out and performed today,” USA’s Chuck Aoki said.
“We learned a lot yesterday, you learn more from losses than you do from wins without a doubt.
“In the long run, that will help us, our goal is to be on top come Tokyo 2020.
“We played so clean, so efficiently and we know we have that performance in us every time.”
Great Britain captain Chris Ryan admitted his side failed to match the performance it produced against Australia in the semi-finals.
“We came here to win, it was always going to be hard, but that’s what we’ve got to aim for and one day we’ll get there.
“We haven’t been able to get into the top-four before, in Rio we lost by one to Canada, so we’ve moved up a place."
The 2018 IWRF World Championship All-Tournament Team is:
0.5 Jonathan Coggan - GBR
1.0 Carlos Neme - COL
1.5 Cedric Nankin - FRA
2.0 Joe Delagrave - USA
2.5 Tomas Hjert - SWE
3.0 Jim Roberts - GBR
3.5 Ryley Batt – AUS
MVP Daisuke Ikezaki – JPN