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Australia goes down in 4-1 series defeat to US
Australia’s wheelchair rugby team has suffered a 4-1 series defeat to the United States in Birmingham, Alabama, in what Australian coach Brad Dubberley has described as a massive learning curve for the team.
The North American Cup, which saw the world’s top two ranked teams do battle for the first time since the Beijing Paralympics, gave the Steelers some much needed playing experience against the reigning Paralympic and World Champions, ahead of the 2010 World Championships to be held in Vancouver in September.
The Australians were pushed to their limits by the US, who rarely play internationally outside World Championships and Paralympic Games. Suffering from travel fatigue, the Australians could not find their groove in the final three games after squaring the series at 1-all.
After their tightly contested second game that saw the Steelers end the Americans’ June 2008 winning streak with a 50-49 victory, the Americans justified their number one ranking with a convincing 50-40 win in game three.
According to Dubberley, game three was not his team’s strongest but served as valuable experience to Australia’s rookies.
“The game proved an opportunity for Antonio Vecchio and Josh Hose to gain some valuable playing minutes against the international line up and they each stepped up to the challenge,” Dubberley said.
In a must win game for Australia, the US exacted revenge against the Aussies for their loss earlier in the week, with a close 50-49 victory. As the lead constantly changed hands throughout the game, Australia missed several offensive and defensive opportunities, ultimately costing them the game. The US opened the one point lead, scoring the winning goal in the game’s last 10 seconds.
“It was a disappointing loss to a strong US side,” Dubberley said.
“With Andrew Harrison out due to a pectoral injury, the Aussie team needed to dig deep. Even with this loss, it highlights many positives – one of them being able to run the current number one team in the world to their limits, where we still have improvements that can be achieved before Worlds.”
With the series already lost, game five provided a golden opportunity for Australia’s rookies to get some valuable playing time. Despite the 59-41 loss, Dubberley said the objective of the series was achieved.
“Our team as a whole understands the US athletes and the way they play much better and this will be extremely important for us at World Championships,” he said.
With travel fatigue no longer a factor, the team is now preparing for this weekend’s Canada Cup where they will take on the world’s top international teams including Canada, Belgium, Sweden, Germany, Japan and Great Britain.
By Rebekka Wake