A thrilling clash of the world’s best will take place in Birmingham, USA, where four of the top five-ranked nations are set to go head-to-head in the 2019 Four Nations Wheelchair Rugby Invitational beginning on Wednesday.
The host are currently third, and welcome world No. 1 Australia, reigning world champions Japan and fifth-ranked Great Britain. All four nations have made changes to the squads that competed at last year’s World Championship in Sydney, Australia.
The first female to represent Australia in an international event – Shae Graham - will make her debut at the Four Nations. Graham is classified at 2.5, but her on-court classification of 2.0, due to a 0.5 deduction for female athletes, will provide the Steelers with another mid-point option. Richard Voris (1.5) also comes into the squad, with Ryan Scott (retired) the only omission.
Great Britain have also included a female athlete with Kylie Grimes (0.5) making her way back into the squad after some time away from wheelchair rugby post-London 2012 to focus on athletics. Grimes’ 0.5 classification means she is essentially a free player on court, allowing Great Britain to make up the remaining eight points with three players.
World champions Japan have made three changes to the team that won gold in Sydney and will test their line-up in Birmingham. A new 2.0 Syunya Nakamachi will get some experience against the world’s best, while Takayuki Norimatsu (1.5) and Yuki Hasegawa (0.5) will provide coach Kevin Orr with a good range of combinations.
Hosts USA have consistently finished on the podium at Paralympic and Worlds competition since the inception of wheelchair rugby but are tired of settling for second or third best. The tournament will be a good test to see whether the USA have what it takes to get back the heights of their success at Beijing 2008 and the 2010 World Championship in Vancouver, Canada. Ernie Chun, Chuck Melton, Talbot Kennedy, Chad Cohn and Jeff Butler are all out of the side that claimed bronze in Sydney last year, with Eric Newby, Joe Jackson, Clayton Braun, Kevin Hamilton and Ray Hennagir earning an opportunity.
The squads are as follows:
Australia: Ryley Batt (3.5), Chris Bond (3.5), Jayden Warn (3.0), Shae Graham (2.5), Josh Nicholson (2.0), Andrew Harrison (2.0), Andrew Edmonson (2.0), Richard Voris (1.5), Jason Lees (1.0), Jake Howe (1.0), Michael Ozanne (0.5), Ben Fawcett (0.5).
Great Britain: Aaron Phipps (3.5), Jim Roberts (3.0), Ayaz Bhuta (2.5), Jamie Stead (2.5), Gavin Walker (2.0), Nick Cummins (1.5), Ryan Cowling (1.0), Jonathan Coggan (0.5), Kylie Grimes (0.5).
Japan: Daisuke Ikezaki (3.0), Yukinobu Ike (3.0), Shinichi Shimakawa (3.0), Masayuki Haga (2.0), Syunya Nakamachi (2.0), Seiya Norimatsu (1.5), Takayuki Norimatsu (1.5), Tomoaki Imai (1.0), Hidefumi Wakayama (1.0), Kotaro Kishi (0.5), Yuki Hasegawa (0.5), Kae Kurahashi (0.5).
USA: Chuck Aoki (3.0), Josh Wheeler (2.5), Jake Daily (2.5), Joe Delagrave (2.0), Eric Newby (2.0), Alex Pabon (2.5), Adam Scaturro (1.5), Lee Fredette (1.0), Joe Jackson (1.0), Clayton Braun (0.5), Kevin Hamilton (not classified), Ray Hennagir (not classified).
The Four Nations Invitational runs until 25 May and information can be found on the event website