Wheel Blacks fighting to re-capture former glory, in Japan

While the All Blacks prepare to battle Ireland in the Rugby World Cup quarter-final, New Zealand’s wheelchair rugby team is facing their own fight to re-capture their former glory in Tokyo.

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The Wheelchair Rugby Challenge is underway in Tokyo. Source: 1 NEWS

The Wheel Blacks are going head-to-head with Australia, USA and Canada in Pool B of the World Wheelchair Rugby Challenge despite a lack of players and funding.

The team lost their most recent encounter with Australia.

The New Zealand side has a pool of eight players, while other teams have 12. The Wheel Blacks were close to having to pull out of the competition until a Japanese donor came through at the 11th hour.

Player Cody Everson said it was because New Zealand was a small nation.

“We gotta work with what we've got,” he said.

Years of scarce funding and resources left the team struggling. The team last won gold in the 2004 Summer Paralympics. It has not been able to qualify for the games since 2008.

Player Robbie Hewitt said times were different when the Wheel Blacks were ranked number one.

“They had a lot of funding, they had a lot of everything,” he said.

But the team remained optimistic. They qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics last month.

“Being at the Paralympics next year will be massive for the sport, exposure-wise and just belief in the players,” player Cameron Leslie said.

The international competition also features teams from Japan, UK, France and Brazil.