Steelers face US for wheelchair rugby gold

Sun, Oct 16, 2022, 1:26 AM
by AAP
Australia has advanced to the finals of the Wheelchair Rugby World Championship. Photo: Lars Møller for Parasport Danmark
Australia has advanced to the finals of the Wheelchair Rugby World Championship. Photo: Lars Møller for Parasport Danmark

The Australian Steelers will battle great rivals the United States for the wheelchair rugby world title after securing a thrilling 56-55 semi-final win over hosts Denmark in Vejle.

Attempting to reclaim top dog status after missing a medal at last year's Tokyo Paralympics, the Steelers reached a fourth consecutive world championships gold medal match on Saturday.

Catch every game of the Wheelchair Rugby World Championships here

They won gold in 2014 and took the silver from the 2018 and 2010 deciders.        

"If we can win this tournament, we can go in the history books as one of the best ever," Australian captain Chris Bond said. "That's what we're aiming for."

It took everything the Australians had to reach the final in a desperately close match against a Danish team spurred on by a raucous sell-out home crowd.

Neither team conceded a turnover in the first half and scores were locked at 28-all at half-time.

The Australians finally forced errors in the third-quarter to gain a two-goal buffer which they held until the game's final two minutes.

But Denmark snatched two turnovers and looked capable of clinching a miraculous comeback. With the margin level, and then back to one, the hosts threw everything they had at the Steelers in the final minute but fell just short. 

Bond said the win highlighted his team's mental toughness.

"We thought about everyone back in Australia watching us. The crowd here was a sea of red and white but we knew our family and friends were getting out of bed at 2am to support us, and that meant something to us," Bond said.

"There were only five turnovers from both teams in the whole game. That is high quality, clean rugby at the highest level and that's why we do it.

"Wind the clock back three months, no one else gave us a chance at this tournament. Everyone was saying that Australia was gone. But we got together as a team and told ourselves that there were no more excuses.

"We had some really open and honest conversations about what we wanted to do as a team, what we believed in, what our values were, and it has paid off in spades.

"This is just the start. We want to win this tournament and then push it all the way to the Paris Paralympics."

Australia and the US have a big shared history in major championships. The Americans trounced the Steelers in the 2010 world championship final and the Paralympic finals in 2000 and 2008.

But, in what is widely regarded as the best wheelchair rugby match of all-time, the Steelers triumphed over the Americans in a double overtime epic at Rio 2016 to claim the Paralympic gold medal with a one-goal victory.

Australia will battle the US for gold at 1am on Monday (AEDT). Denmark will face Japan for bronze medal at 10.45pm on Sunday (AEDT).

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