ParalympicsGB stun US to win wheelchair rugby gold for first time

If this felt like a big, impactful moment then it was surely appropriate. Wheelchair rugby, the sport of smashing and grabbing and sprinting and crashing, is an iconic Paralympic event. It’s a sport of danger and cunning and of absolute granite determination. For the first time, Great Britain are its champions.

Led by Stuart Robinson, the former RAF gunner who lost both his legs to an IED in Afghanistan, and Jim Roberts, who turned to wheelchair rugby during the three years he spent in hospital recovering from bacterial meningitis, Great Britain beat the United States – the most successful nation in the history of the sport – by 54 tries to 49 and led from start to finish.

Not that it was easy. The US team, led by the cunning Charles Aoki, steadily reduced a three point first-quarter deficit until the game was in the balance in the final eight minute period. After relying throughout on Roberts’ consistent scoring, egter, it was a triumphant final quarter from Robinson that secured victory. Coming back from a turnover that had led to the US tieing the score, Robinson dominated play; he secured two turnovers of his own, and scored eight tries, including two superlative solo runs, to break American spirits.

The dynamic of wheelchair rugby is similar to basketball with regular scoring from one end to the other. A turnover is crucial and Great Britain earned their first with the score at 1-1. With the ball in British hands Roberts played in Aaron Phipps, the third key figure in the side, to land a crucial shift in momentum. By 7-5 Roberts was in again to seize possession and complete a second turnover. GB led 15-12 at the first break. A hit on Robinson at the start of the second quarter got the US a turnover back and it was here that Aoki started to have his influence. With the US sitting deep in defence and bursting forward in packs when attacking, Aoki was the player with the vision to make the plays, or alternatively, weave over the end line to score himself.

An incredible Hail Mary style try in the last seconds of the second quarter, with Aoki converting, brought the scores to 26-24 in GB’s favour at half-time. With the US restarting play the gap went down to one and another turnover on Phipps gave the US the chance, at least in sequence, to level. But at this crucial juncture, about the point when the US had seized momentum in this fixture in the group stages, Britain held firm. Even a one minute sin-bin for Robinson didn’t allow the US the opportunity to take the lead.

In the final quarter, Robinson was knocked over and the score was 37 each. Toe, perhaps auspiciously, the ball burst. A new one was thrown on and simultaneously Robinson burst into life, sacking America’s Joseph Delegrave for a turnover before finding a way to hit Roberts, who then found Cowling for a crucial score. From then on, victory loomed ever closer and history was soon made.




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