Friday, September 20, 2013

Cathedral Square, Sydney, Australia — Wikinews attended the Wheelchair Rugby Tri-Nations Series in Cathedral Square, Sydney, ongoing from Wednesday. This is the first time an international wheelchair rugby event has been held outdoors, and in this arena. Three nations are competing: the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.

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The venue is Cathedral Square, Sydney, which is adjacent to Hyde Park. The Sydney Central Business district is on the other side of the park. An outdoor stadium has been constructed specifically for the tournament, which is believed to be the first time an international wheelchair rugby tournament has been held outdoors. This choice was validated by the fine and warm weather. Free sunscreen was given to the crowd.

The Opening Ceremony was officiated by Australian Paralympic Committee Chief Executive Officer Jason Hellwig. In attendance were the Premier of New South Wales, Barry O’Farrell, the Deputy Lord Mayor of Sydney, Robyn Kemmis, and Paralympic swimmer Matthew Cowdrey. A large crowd, mostly consisting of school groups, was entertained by boy band Justice Crew singing their hit Best Night.

Each team is to play the others two twice, on Wednesday September 18 and Thursday September 19. Finals are to be held on Friday. All three teams are highly ranked internationally. The United States team is ranked number one in the world. It won bronze at the 2004 Summer Paralympics in Athens, gold at the 2008 Summer Paralympics in Beijing, and bronze at the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London, and is the current world champion. This is its first visit to Australia since the 2000 Summer Paralympics.

The Australian team, known as the Steelers, is ranked second in the world. It won silver in Beijing and gold in London. The team is almost unchanged from the one that won in London. Greg Smith has become the assistant coach.

The first game, held immediately after the Opening Ceremony, was between the United States and Australia. The United States proved the better team, forcing errors and turnovers. Three turnovers in the first quarter were especially costly for the Steelers, who lost 56–43.

The second game was held at 17:30 under lights. The crowd was small, but there were a number of New Zealand fans in the crowd, including a few Maori. Two of the New Zealand players are also Maori. The well-disciplined United States team proved too good for the Wheel Blacks as well, who lost 58–40 in an entertaining contest.

The third game was at 19:30, between Australia and New Zealand. The Australians led the whole game, which was nonetheless entertaining to the last. In the dying seconds of the game, Australia’s Ryley Batt shunted a stalling New Zealand player across the line to force him to score, then threw the ball to team mate Chris Bond, who raced for the line at high speed but was beaten by the buzzer. Australia won 61–48.

The New Zealand team, known as the Wheel Blacks, is ranked tenth in the world. It won gold in Athens.

Highlights of the tournament are scheduled to be shown on Foxtel Sports in Australia on September 28 and 29.