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Aussie Steelers beat France in thriller

(Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
26th August, 2021
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The Australian wheelchair rugby team have kept their dreams of a Paralympics three-peat alive after pulling off a series of clutch plays in the dying minutes of a thrilling 50-48 win over France.

The Steelers’ hopes of making the semi-finals were hanging by a thread after suffering a shock 54-53 loss to newcomers Denmark on Wednesday.

It meant a loss to France would have ended Australia’s hopes of winning a third straight Paralympic gold medal.

The Steelers also were without key player Michael Ozanne, who missed Thursday’s game because of illness.

With scores locked at 41-41 midway through the final quarter, Thursday’s match was delicately poised.

But Australia were able to score three straight tries courtesy of two huge defensive plays.

Star Australian Ryley Batt managed to bump his opponent back over the halfway line to cause a turnover.

Then a short time later, Andrew Harrison pulled off a huge moment of his own when he unleashed a big hit that resulted in his opponent fumbling the ball out of bounds.

The clutch plays allowed Australia to build a match-winning three-try lead, with the Steelers holding their nerve at the death.

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The match also saw Shae Graham become the first woman to represent the Steelers at a Paralympics.

Graham pulled off a couple of key defensive plays, scored a try, and provided an assist in a bright three-minute cameo during the second term.

Batt finished with 25 tries and a crucial steal in a best-on-court display, while Andrew Edmondson chipped in with nine tries.

Jonathan Hivernat starred for France with 29 tries.

The Steelers face unbeaten Japan in their final group game on Friday.

Even if they secure a win, their hopes of reaching the semi-finals could come down to points for and against.

Only the top two teams from each group progress to the semi-finals.

Japan have two wins to their name, while Australia and Denmark have one each.

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France, who take on Denmark on Friday, are yet to post a win.

Ozanne missed the France clash because of a urinary tract infection – a reasonably common problem for someone with higher-level spinal cord injuries.

Australian team management stressed that he has tested negative for COVID-19.

Ozanne will be monitored ahead of a call on his availability for the Japan game.

© AAP

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