Now that we’ve covered the basics of Wheelchair Rugby we can review the Aussies’ performances at the London 2012 Paralympics.
In London 2012, the Steelers were in drawn in Pool B with fellow powerhouse Canada, along with Belgium and Sweden. The USA — hot favourites for a second successive gold medal — were in Pool A along with Japan, Great Britain and France.
The Steelers topped their pool with victories 64-52 over Canada, 60-47 over Sweden, and 58-43 over Belgium.
In the semi-final the Steelers comprehensively outplayed Japan 59-45 to advance to the gold medal match, expecting to face the USA team. In advancing to the final, they had not been beaten in any one quarter.
In a major upset, the Canadians pipped the USA team in the other semi-final by 50-49, setting up a play-off for gold against the Steelers.
The gold medal match took place at the Basketball Stadium on Sunday, 9 September, at 2:15 pm London time, in front of just over 9,000 people. The Steelers were installed as slight favourites, based on their earlier pool victory over the Canadians.
From the start, it was obvious that the Steelers meant business and they used stars Ryley Batt and Chris Bond in a High-Low strategy to great effect. The tactic is simple but effective: use the lower mobility players like four-time Paralympian Nazim Erdem to tie up key opponents and create space for the likes of Batt and Bond to use their superior speed and mobility to score the points. On defence, Ryley also dominated, frustrating the Canadian attack by winning many turnovers.
The Steelers lead 18-11 at the first break after a mesmerising display by Batt, who played the Canadians like Nigel Kennedy plays his violin. The 23-year-old from Port Macquarie is an absolute virtuoso at this sport. He was playing at his third Paralympics, having represented the Steelers at Athens 2004, when only 15 years of age, and at Beijing 2008.
For the rest of the game, ably supported their team mates, the Bond and Batt show rolled right over top of the brave Canadians. While the opposition never gave up trying, they were unable to put a dent in the Steelers’ record of unbeaten quarters. The final gold-winning score was 66-51 to the Australian Steelers, with Ryley Batt contributing a massive 38 goals.
Best for Australia were obviously Batt, and Bond (15 goals). The 45-year-old Opening Ceremony flagbearer Greg Smith was solid on defence and ably supported the Batt and Bond show on attack, and fittingly scored the final goal in this final match. On defence, the veteran Erdam was very dependable in his supporting role.
The Canadian Charge was led by Zak Madell (11 goals), who proved to be a read handful, and Garret Hickling and Mike Whitehead with seven goals each. Ian Chan (five goals) was also dangerous with his ability to free himself from his marker at just the right time to receive the ball to score.
The final mention must go out to the 31-year-old Brad Dubberley, who has been the head coach of the Steelers since his retirement from competition in 2006. The 1998 Junior Paralympian of the Year, and a silver medallist in Sydney 2000, Brad brings a wealth of experience to this role, having competed in over 70 international competitions in a playing career that last from 1996 to 2006. His motto is ‘Don’t let the chair stop you from doing anything.’
Here are some highlights from the final: