Match Report – Wheelchair Rugby Final
It’s time for the Wheelchair Rugby medal rounds, and excitement is the word of the day.
First up was the bronze medal match between a strong UK team that was scattered by the Danish attack in the semi-final. They will have a chance to prove themselves against the known southern hemisphere rugby force that is the Australian national team.
The HP Field House was packed in anticipation of the intense battle for the medals up for grabs. The long-standing battle between the British and Aussies was reignited in Orlando this evening. The first half was highly dramatic with UK’s Captain Stuart Robinson opening the team account in style with a break away move allowing the Brits to surge ahead.
Australia continued to struggle with the ball leading to a quick hat trick from inspiring Charlie Walker, UK through expert interceptions and neat passing between the team. The UK sustained domination over the Aussies in the first half finishing 22-3.
The second half started in the same fashion with UK orchestrating play and Charlie Walker boosting the Brits score with the help of substitute Arron Dindyal and captain Stuart Robinson.
As the gap between the teams widened Australian spirit did not wain, with ferocious tackles from both, flipping athletes’ wheelchairs. The final score was 47-4 to the UK, meaning the Brits broke the Invictus Games Wheelchair Rugby record of most points scored in a game, set by USA in the semi-final against Australia.
Top point scorer in the match, Charlie Walker, said:
“We didn’t do what we knew we could do against Denmark in the semi-final. That was the motivation for us to go out and play the way we did to claim the bronze against the Aussies. It has been such a great tournament with fantastic Invictus spirit from all teams.”
Singing sensation Laura Wright treated the arena to a rendition of “Invincible,” a moment that inspired all at the Opening Ceremony. Her voice silenced the rowdy crowd, which re-erupted at the crescendo.
Next it was time for a special treat – the exhibition match, featuring Invictus Games Wheelchair Rugby athletes from a host of nations and global super stars including American professional WWE wrestler, actor and the host of the new reality television show “American Grit” John Cena, Olympic Gold medal gymnast Shawn Johnson and Dancing with the Stars professional dancer David Hough.
Cena got the crowd pumped for the clash between team Land Rover and team Jaguar. Despite being new to the sport the stars were speedy and agile in the chairs. Wright was the first to be put in the penalty area for a foul on Hough, who went on to score on a crashing through the barrier flattening all in his path. At half time the score was a close 6-5 to team Land Rover.
The close competition continued into the second half with some great play from both sides. American football wide receiver for the New York Jets, Eric Decker put on a fantastic performance for Jaguar who rammed their way to glory over team Land Rover 12 – 9. Jaguar team manager Wilmer Valderrama accepted the ‘I AM’ trophy from JJ Chalmers and Israel Del Toro Jr., both of whom were a central part of the Invictus Games Opening Ceremony.
John Cena gave an uplifting speech to the crowd thanking them for their support of this unique event that gives hope and inspiration to people when they are most vulnerable. He sparked excitement for Invictus 2017 by saying: “I’ve already thrown my hat in the ring for Toronto, so see y’all there.”
Gold Medal Match
Then came the match everyone had been waiting for – the Rugby Wheelchair Final. The Danes were definitely the underdogs against this all star American team, but they’d already upset the apple cart by knocking England out of the competition.
Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden addressed the audience before the match got underway. He had a special thank you to all the Invictus athletes and their families, for being an inspiration to millions in the US and around the globe. Vice President Biden encapsulated his appreciation, saying, “You are defined by your courage and redeemed by your loyalty.” He also cited lines from the ‘Invictus’ poem by Richard Henley with his own twist: “You are the captains of your countries’ souls.” Biden finished by spurring the US team on and jokingly said: “I have to meet the Danish Prime Minister next week and I don’t want to have to wear an awkward smile.”
With the VP’s wisdom ringing in the ears of the athletes the start whistle sounded. Within minutes US captain and powerhouse Anthony McDaniel scored. Denmark’s Mark Peters, another star of the competition, responded quickly by charging over the try line.
The Danish attack hunted for a chink in USA’s chainmail and found a gap to bring the scores level mid way through the half. However, the USA powered forward putting daylight between the teams and applying pressure by pinning the Danes in their own half.
There was end-to-end action all half with team Denmark’s Maurice Manuel going over when trying to stop McDaniel at the line. Towards the end of the half the USA pulled away with the team exhibiting a world-class performance.
Mark Peters registered the first score of the second half with McDaniel responding instantly. The US played a vicious counter-attacking game with a fool proof defense.
The two titans (McDaniel and Peters) took each other on in a one-on-one collision with McDaniel coming off worse this time; he righted his chair, laughed and high-fived Peters in a show of respect in true Invictus Games spirit.
The Americans grew a sizeable gap throughout the half by digging in along their try line and springing into attack with precision passing and clinical moves. Denmark caught up in the last minute, but it was too little too late as the final whistle sounded and the crowd roared as the home nation was crowned champions scoring 28-19 over the courageous Danes.
US captain Anthony McDaniel told us what he thought the Invictus Games are about and how it feels to be part of the Games:
“It’s definitely about fierce competition and spirit, like I took a hit from Mark [Peters] it was a great hit a clean hit so I can’t do nothing but laugh it off and get onto the next play. Shout out to Mark [Peters] because he’s a fierce competitor. Vice President Joe Biden’s words inspired all of us, you could see everyone’s emotions running high. I am glad we pulled this off for him [Biden] and all the other supporters, now he won’t be sad when he meets the Danish president next week.”
Michael Sorenson, Denmark Team Captain told us about the change in people he has seen because of the Invictus Games:
“We knew we were the underdog in this game, we had nothing to lose. It’s a fantastic sport to watch and play especially against the Americans; we don’t feel ashamed about losing to them. We had some great performances, like Mark Peters. He is a cannonball, he’s a machine, he just keeps going, he is so fast. We caught the UK off guard earlier. I don’t think they expected us to be that good, which was a great achievement.
“The Invictus Games are amazing. It’s a life changing event, it changed my life. It also changed all my friends lives by competing this year and also in London. Seeing people change in just five months from being shy and angry and not wanting to talk to other people to blossoming and being happy all the time, its amazing seeing people grow like that through sport and through the Invictus Games.”
The evening finished on a perfect note with the Vice President and Prince of Wales presenting the Bronze (UK), Silver (Denmark) and Gold (USA) medals to the competitors.