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Australia ekes out 2-point win over Canada in wheelchair rugby worlds opener

Canada suffered a rare loss to open play at the wheelchair rugby world championship, dropping a 55-53 decision to two-time Paralympic champions Australia on Tuesday in Vejle, Denmark.

The Canadians, ranked sixth internationally, closed to within two points a few times over the final minute of play but didn’t record the necessary turnover to give themselves an opportunity to defeat the world No. 4 Aussies.

“It’s tough. We have the mindset of winning every game,” defenceman Cody Caldwell of Peterborough, Ont., said after the match. “Every point counts here. They played their game and we came up short.”

Canada continues group play Wednesday at 3 a.m. ET versus Japan followed by an 11 a.m. ET match versus Colombia. Denmark (7) and Brazil (9) are the other Group B teams.

“We have a nice, early game with Japan. We know [them] inside/out and they know us,” Caldwell said of the 2018 world gold medallists. “We have to get stretched out, get some food in us and a good sleep.”

“For all the games, but Japan especially, it’s going to be about getting out to a good start,” added Caldwell’s teammate, Travis Murao, 39. “We can’t dig ourselves a hole early.”

Group A features Great Britain (2), United States (3), France (5), New Zealand (8), Germany (10) and Switzerland (12). The top four teams from each group advance to Friday’s quarter-final stage, which is being held for the first time at the world championship. The semifinals are Saturday, with the medal matches on Sunday.

More than 130 players, including a record 13 women — three of whom are members of the Australian team — will compete at the event.

In September, Canada defeated reigning Paralympic champion Great Britain in the Quad Nations final and has demonstrated major growth since a disappointing fifth-place finish at the Tokyo Paralympics in 2021.

Canada’s 12-member squad at worlds, which includes 11 Paralympians, also won silver in June at the Canada Cup in Richmond, B.C.

Canada concluded sixth at the last world championship in 2018 in Sydney, Australia, where Japan captured the gold medal. The Canadians won silver at the 2014 edition and are searching for their first world title since 2002.

Shayne Smith, an offensive player on the national team since 2017, has witnessed significant growth within the team since 2018 worlds.

“It’s the same core group of guys, and it’s such a different team. It’s really been such an amazing thing to grow with these guys and to see us grow. I’m feeling very confident about where we’re at,” Smith said.

Steve Carr

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