The script for the wheelchair rugby World Championships was rewritten when Japan defeated reigning champions Australia to make it to No. 3 on the International Paralympic Committee’s Top 10 Moments of 2018.
In August, Japan lifted the Worlds trophy for the first time with a nail-biting 62-61 win on Australia’s home court.
Japan’s maiden World Championship victory sets them up perfectly for more history as they go for their first Paralympic gold at Tokyo 2020. They proved they belong on the podium following medal-winning performances at their last two major events.
Gold at the 2018 Worlds was always a possibility. But the final appeared to be going in Australia’s favour.
The host nation held a 15-14 advantage, but it was the second period where things began to unravel for Australia.
Australia conceded seven uncharacteristic turnovers in the second quarter alone.
Japan led by as much as five, but a try on the final whistle from Australian captain Ryley Batt saw put the hosts up 32-28 at half-time.
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.
The momentum went Japan’s way when they went up by two points with 1:03 left in regulation, putting even more pressure on Australia.
A last-ditch attempt from Batt was denied by the Japanese defence as the final siren sounded.
“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,” said Japan’s Daisuke Ikezaki, who was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
“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.”
Batt, who was part of the gold medal-winning squad from Rio 2016, gave Japan credit for an excellent fight.
“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,” he had said.