Paralympics: Japan win bronze over Australia in wheelchair rugby

Aug 29 , 2021. 19 minutes ago – 19:29 KYODO NEWS

Japan’s wheelchair rugby team members celebrate after winning the bronze medal at the Tokyo Paralympics on Aug. 29, 2021, at Yoyogi National Stadium in Tokyo. (Kyodo)

TOKYO – Japan won the bronze medal in wheelchair rugby Sunday at the Tokyo Paralympics by beating Australia 60-52.

Following Saturday’s heartbreaking loss to Britain in the semifinals which ended the team’s quest for gold, an emotionally charged Japan team played aggressively from start to finish at the Yoyogi National Stadium.

Leading 30-25 at halftime, the reigning world champions and home heroes extended the lead in the third quarter with some stout defense to take a 45-36 advantage into the final period.

The night before the match, Japan coach Kevin Orr was asked by his players what kind of rugby he wants to play.

Orr replied, “We like to play attacking offense and defense.”

“That’s what we wanted to do today regardless of what lineups they had and I think we did that,” he told reporters after the victory.

Captain Yukinobu Ike also told reporters that the aim for Sunday’s match was to “work hard throughout the match and play aggressive offense and defense.”

“We were able to play a desirable (style of) rugby, which we have been working on since Rio,” Ike said. “We were not able to play the type of game we like against Britain,” he added.

The offensive contribution from the team’s low-pointers was another factor in Japan’s win over Australia. Normally, the offense is carried by high-pointers while the players with less mobility focus on defense.

“Our low-pointers have been key,” said Orr. “Offense and defense, they were solid and we were pleased how our low-pointers played,” he said.

International wheelchair rugby has seven different player classifications from 0.5 to 3.5, with the lower the number, the more severe the level of physical impairment. The cumulative total of the four players on the court at any time must be 8.0 points or fewer.

Daisuke Ikezaki led Japan with 23 tries, while Australia captain Ryley Batt was the game-high man with 27 tries.

It was a bitter-sweet victory for Japan ace Ikezaki, as the team was a pre-games gold medal favorite and each player has been working hard since the Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

“I think this is the best result the team can attain right now, but personally, it is an unsatisfactory and mortifying result,” said Ikezaki, who consoled a crying teammate on the court after the match.

Japan suffered just one loss at the Tokyo Games. The team was undefeated in the group stage with wins over France, Denmark, and Australia before suffering the 55-49 defeat to Britain.

The mixed wheelchair rugby team also took bronze at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, which was Japan’s first Paralympic medal in the sport.