Historically one of the top nations in wheelchair rugby, a new-look Canadian team will be looking to gain some valuable experience as the GIO 2018 IWRF Wheelchair Rugby World Championships kick off in Sydney, Australia Sunday.
Though seven players on the squad have Paralympic experience, for five newcomers – Matt Debly, Anthony Letourneau, Eric Rodrigues, Shayne Smith, and Branden Troutman – the world championships will be the biggest tournament of their careers so far.
The team recently earned a fourth-place result at Canada Cup in Richmond, British Columbia and is beginning to mesh as a group.
“The team’s chemistry has been pretty good,” said head coach Patrick Cote from Sydney. “I believe the guys have each other’s back on and off the court. Right now, we are still a few days away from the tournament, so the atmosphere is a little loose and the guys are still able to have fun and relax. But yes, the team is coming together well and it’s been a pleasure to watch.”
Arriving in Sydney a week before the world championships begin, Canada has had the opportunity to train in the host city and adjust to the time difference.
“I’m liking the way we look right now. We’re definitely working our way up to position, where we’ll be able to perform at our best starting August 5th.”
The team’s overall goal is to finish Top 5, though making the semifinals would be a bonus. The top two finishers in the round-robin groups will make the semifinals – Canada is in Pool B alongside USA, Great Britain, France, Colombia, and Poland.
Overall though, Cote wants to see his players perform to their best abilities.
“I want to see Canada Rugby out there from the first tip-off in Game 1 to final whistle in Game 7,” he said. “I want the team to dictate what happens out there on the court. I want them to force the other team to have to adjust. Beyond that, I also want to see the younger players go out there and contribute to the team’s success.”
Canada will be led in Sydney by co-captains Patrice Dagenais and Trevor Hirschfield. The five other Paralympians on the team, rounding out the roster, are Cody Caldwell, Fabien Lavoie, Travis Murao, Patrice Simard, and Mike Whitehead.
Australia is the defending Paralympic gold medallist from 2016 and world champion from 2014. The winner of the world championships will receive an automatic qualification for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
Canada will open its tournament on Sunday August 5 against France, taking place at 2:30 a.m. ET. Canadians can stream the action live via cbcsports.ca and the CPC’s Facebook page. The GIO 2018 IWRF Wheelchair Rugby World Championships will run from August 5-10 in Sydney, Australia and every game will be broadcast online by CBC Sports.
Photo credit: Sommer Christie