This was a three day event starting on Friday the 14th of August and running through to the Championship Final on Sunday the 16th. So it is an early start on Friday morning to get to the EISS Sheffield for Game 1 at 9:30. This opening encounter would see hosts Great Britain, take on Canada in the Pool stages of the competition.
There would be 4 pool games on Friday followed by 2 further pool games on Saturday morning and 2 play-off games on Saturday afternoon. Then on Sunday the 3rd 4th playoff and rounding off with the Championship game.
Having never seen the game before I was astonished as the players began to take to the floor for the informal warm-up. If I am not mistaken the chairs seem to be armour-plated.
I was not mistaken and it was not long before I realized why they were armour-plated. Players would crash into each other with terrifying ferocity to try and force them to turnover the ball or to take it or them out of bounds.
Wheelchair Rugby is played over 4 quarters of 8 minutes each with 4 players on each team on court at any time. Teams have 12 seconds to advance the ball across the halfway line and a total of 40 seconds to score or they must turn the ball over.
Incredibly, the teams also include women who play a full part in the game. One hit by Erika Schmutz of Canada later in the tournament was up there amongst the plays of the day.
Players are classified according to their arm & hand function and strength from point 5, the lowest to 3.5 the highest and most able. The total classification points on court at anytime is not allowed to exceed 8. The game is played on a basketball sized court and, in my opinion, is different to every other sport out there.
The ferocity of the play must be seen to be appreciated but the skill levels of the top players truly is a joy to behold. The hits(!) are reminiscent of American Football while the ability to manoeuvre the chair is right out of the top levels of Wheelchair Basketball.
Further, the ability to move the chair from one end of the court to the other in seconds is unbelievable. But making the same journey with opponents ramming their chairs into you, makes for possible one of the most exciting sports on offer at the moment.
It was back in 1977 that three Canadians decided to invent a new sport as a quadriplegic equivalent to Wheelchair Basketball. Because of the aggressive nature of the sport it was called Murderball.
That name has now changed to Wheelchair Rugby and while the name has changed none of the aggressiveness has gone from the sport.
So Finland, Canada and Sweden along with hosts Great Britain are assembled in Sheffield for the 2009 GB Cup.
Game 1 was a baptism of fire for the home team as Canada gave notice that they meant business, and definitely intended to take this trophy back home with them. To put it mildly they are star studded and Head Coach Kevin Orr rotated his bench with an efficiency that was stunning. There were many stars for Canada but the Cloutier brothers, Manuel and Sebastian were dazzling. Other stars for Canada were Whitehead and Lavoie.
The star for GB was pin-up boy Troye Collins who was well assisted by Andy Barrow and Johnny Coggan. To be fair, after staying with the Canadians for a while GB ran out of steam and the guests ran out easy winners.
I was learning the game and learning it quickly. I noticed that the lower classified players simply gave up their bodies to set picks (blocks) so that the higher classified players would go to work. It was fantastic team play.
The next game up was Sweden against Finland and this gave us the first opportunity to see a simply stunning player. His name is Leevi Ylonen of Sweden and having watched Wheelchair Basketball for a number of years, the manoeuvrability of his chair is second only to the legendary Patrick Anderson, the Canadian Wheelchair Basketball superstar.
This was a very close game and the Finns eventually ran out winners by a score line of 43 to 44. It really was that close.
And so to Saturday morning and we are at the last two pool games. Canada were unbeaten so far and would play Sweden while GB would take on Finland. The situation was simply. Everyone wanted to avoid Canada in the play-offs which meant don’t finish last. GB was in that position at the moment but victory over the Finns by two goals or more would condemn Finland to the bottom of the league where they would have to face the mighty Canadians in the play-offs.
This truly was a joyous occasion as these teams went wheel to wheel with neither giving an inch. A sensational play by Troye Collins saw him run the shot clock down and allowing the game to go to overtime. Had he scored, GB would have won by 1 but he knew that that was not going to be good enough.
So it is overtime and the sensational action continued until GB turned the ball over at a crucial moment and that was that. Great Britain won the game but by just 1 point and would finish last in the group. Canada awaited…
In the other game it business as usual for the Canadians who comfortably defeated the Swedes.
The Play-offs saw GB go down to the Canadians after putting up a good fight but the second play-off game was of monster proportions. Sweden and Finland simply played themselves to a standstill. Every player gave their best and it went one way then the other. But despite sensational plays from Ylonen and great blocking by Anna Pasanen it would be the Swedes who would roll out winners on the back of great plays by Tobias Sandberg and Mikael Norlin. For me, this was the game of the tournament.
So the third fourth game would be between Great Britain and Finland while the Championship game would be between Canada and Sweden.
This was a great chance for GB to pick up the Bronze and they came out fired up with Troye Collins again the star but this time getting great help from Mandip Semhi and David Anthony. Despite great plays again from Ylonen, GB went on to take Bronze. In the Championship game the Swedes fought well but could not stay with the awesome Canadians who went on to take Gold.
So congratulations to Canada but also congratulations to all the teams taking part and to everyone whose hard work made this such a memorable tournament. This was my first ever taste of Wheelchair Rugby and I was hooked. It is a sensational sport and I don’t think it will be long before it is vying for proper TV time in the UK.
MIKE SHAFT TOURNAMENT MVP
LEEVI YLONEN – FINLAND
MIKE SHAFT WHEELCHAIR RUGBY ALL-STAR TEAM
SEBASTIAN CLOUTIER – CANADA
MANUEL CLOUTIER – CANADA
TROYE COLLINS – GREAT BRITAIN
TOBIAS SANDBERG – SWEDEN
MIKAEL NORLIN – SWEDEN
LEEVI YLONEN – FINLAND
ANNA PASANEN – FINLAND
FABIEN LAVOIE – CANADA
MANDIP SEMHI – GREAT BRITAIN
DAVID ANTHONY – GREAT BRITAIN
Head to Page 2 for the Unofficial Photo album
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