USA crowned Wheelchair Rugby Tri-Nations champions

In front of a 2,000-strong crowd outdoors at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Chuck Aoki and Joe Delagrave led Team USA to victory. 20 Sep 2013
Chuck Aoki and Ryley Batt

The USA's Chuck Aoki attempts to grab the ball away from Australia's Ryley Batt. Aoki led his team to victory as its leading scorer with 26 points, while Batt was named the tournament's MVP.

ⒸSport the Library | Jeff Crow
By Australian Paralympic Committee

“The US played a terrific tournament here. We weren’t sure how they would handle playing here in a stadium like this, but they did their homework and played better when it mattered most.”

The USA became the 2013 Be The Influence Wheelchair Rugby Tri-Nations champions after defeating Australia 58-54 in the gold-medal match in Sydney on Friday (20 September).

With the stunning St. Mary’s Cathedral as the backdrop, the world’s two best teams slugged it out on the purpose-built court as the 2,000-strong crowd rode every brutal collision between wheelchairs.

In the end, it was Team USA’s mistake-free brand of wheelchair rugby that proved the difference. They were clinical with the ball in the dying stages, and never gave the Australians a chance to mount a comeback.

Chuck Aoki (26 goals) and Joe Delagrave (21 goals) were the major scorers for the victorious Amercians, while Derrick Helton (five), Chuck Melton (three) and Josh Wheeler (three) also making strong contributions.

Australian powerhouse Ryley Batt, who was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, crossed for 40 goals in the final while Chris Bond contributed Australia’s other 14. Those two players, along with Naz Erdem and Ryan Scott played the entire game for the Aussies.

American coach James Gumbert was a proud man after he was asked to describe what the famous victory meant to his team.

“We are very, very happy,” Gumbert said. “Having lost to Australia in our last game, it forced us to look inside ourselves and dig deep. A bunch of young kids grew up tonight. I’m so proud of them,.

“Earlier in the tournament, we tried a couple of things that we had never tried against the Aussies, and things didn’t happen the way we wanted them to. But we went back, watched all the games again and worked out where we thought we were going wrong. We picked things apart and came back with a better plan. It was very satisfying.”

For Australian coach Brad Dubberley, the four goal defeat was hard to swallow.

“The US deserved the win and it was our own unforced errors that cost us the game,” Dubberley said.

“Our starting lineup played the whole game but I don’t think fatigue was a factor. We just had a few mishaps with our communication when we had the ball and that cost us.

“The US played a terrific tournament here. We weren’t sure how they would handle playing here in a stadium like this, but they did their homework and played better when it mattered most.”

Never before had an international wheelchair rugby tournament been played outdoors, under lights and on a purpose-built court.

“It was an awesome experience playing here in front of the home crowd. We had awesome support and we were confident heading into the final, but the simple errors we made really hurt,” Dubberley said.

Gumbert added: “It’s a dream for me to see our sport treated like sport. To see the support of the fans, the city of Sydney and the Australian Paralympic Committee in helping us to get here has been a win for everybody. We can’t wait to come back.”

Earlier in the day, Australia progressed to the gold medal match with a 62-45 victory over New Zealand.

Gold-medal match – AUS v USA

USA – 58

Goal scorers: Chuck Aoki 26, Joe Delagrave 21, Derrick Helton 5, Chuck Melton 3, Josh Wheeler 3.

Australia – 54

Goal scorers: Ryley Batt 40, Chris Bond, 14

Semi-final – AUS v NZL

Australia – 62

Goal scorers – Ryley Batt 22, Chris Bond 22, Palmer 5, Josh Hose 4, Andrew Harrison 4, Cameron Carr 4, Jason Lees 1.

New Zealand – 45

Goal scorers – Sholto Taylor 11, Dan Buckingham 11, Barney Koneferinisi 11, Cameron Leslie 8, Adam Wakeford 1, Rob Hewitt 1, Chris Lay 1.