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Wheel Blacks Looking To Boost World Rankings

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Wheel Blacks Looking To Boost World Rankings

After the disappointment of finishing fifth in the Beijing Paralympics, the New Zealand wheelchair rugby team is looking to atone for that failure when it competes in the IWAS Wheelchair Rugby Asia-Oceania Zone Championships in Christchurch starting on Wednesday.

The Wheel Blacks currently are ranked No. 5 in the world and No. 2 for this tournament behind Australia, but a win in the final on Sunday will lift them to No.2 in world rankings.

Greg Mitchell, coach of the Wheel Blacks and in his first campaign at the helm, said that the team has a strong core of experienced players with four of the squad, Jai Waite, Dan Buckingham, Geremy Tinker and Curtis Palmer having been members of the gold medal team from Athens.

"We have had a bit of a hiccup in the last couple of days with Adam Wakeford having to withdraw from the squad after being concussed during a match. His place has been taken by Clayton Utia," he said.

Apart from New Zealand and Australia, the other sides competing are Japan, Korea and South Africa. The championships are being held at Pioneer Stadium with the first match on Wednesday and the final on Sunday afternoon.

Mitchell said that apart from the one point loss to Australia in Beijing, the Wheel Blacks have had a good record against their Tasman rivals.

"They have a very exciting player in Ryley Batt, but like us they also have some new players. The Japanese also have a key player Shin Shimakawa, but they are carrying five new players. Surprisingly two of their top three scorers at Beijing are missing.

"Korea are quite new to the sport and while we have never lost to South Africa we will watch them closely in the warm-up matches," he said.

This is the fifth Asia-Oceania Championships. Australia won when it was first held in Christchurch in 2001, Australia again won in Japan in 2003, New Zealand won in South Africa in 2005 and Australia was again champion in Sydney in 2007.

The Wheel Blacks will have a warm up match against Japan on Tuesday starting at 11.30am and will open the championship with their game against South Africa on Wednesday at 12.30pm after the opening ceremony.

The full New Zealand squad is: Martyn Payne, Jai Waite, Gavin Rolton, Clayton Utia, Dave Klinkhamer, Chris Lay, Geremy Tinker, Curtis Palmer, Steve Smith and Dan Buckingham. Waite and Buckingham are co-captains.

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