Britain’s Wheelchair Rugby players broke into jubilant celebrations after clinching their first victory of the London 2012 Paralympic Games in front of the prime minister David Cameron and 10,000 fans at the Basketball Arena tonight (Thursday).
But in truth it was more relief than joy after they’d edged a “dicey” win in the last five minutes against Paralympic newcomers France. After struggling to make headway for three-quarters of their second group A tie, Britain upped their game in the fourth period to claim victory by seven points, 57-50.
France matched O’Connor’s young GB team throughout a bruising and fractious encounter in which the teams were never separated by more than three points until the final few minutes when Britain’s strength in depth finally made the difference.
After losing their first fixture to reigning world and Paralympic champions USA, O’Connor said tonight’s victory against a side that only started playing the sport five years ago was “too close for comfort”.
“It wasn’t easy,” said O’Connor. “France are certainly coming on. We knew they’d be difficult, but I didn’t think they’d be as strong as that.
“I’m just glad to get a win out of the way to be honest. We’ll need to look now at what we can change and tweak before tomorrow’s game.”
“Against France we always knew it was going to be a long, hard slog,” added captain Steve Brown. “They’re a team that need to be worn down. It was goal for goal for an awfully long time but the tactical decisions we made all worked.
“Most matches are going to be rated on the final score, which was us winning. You’ve got to remember these are the top eight teams in the world and nothing can be taken for granted.”
Brown, from Sittingbourne in Kent, admitted that GB had struggled to recover from their exhausting clash with the world no. 1 side on Wednesday.
“It’s always very difficult when you have days like yesterday, when you put out your best performance and it’s still not good enough,” he said. “We’re very lucky to have such a deep squad with so many different attributes. We know what their strengths are and what their abilities are. It went like a dream, we sorted it all out.”
Andy Barrow, a veteran of two the last two Games who managed three crucial steals, praised some of the side’s newer players for seeing them home.
“Some of our new guys went out there and really shone, they were on fire, they rose to the occasion. It was fabulous” said the 33 year old Londoner. “We rolled around a couple of lines, then found the line-up that did it right.
“All those hours of fitness paid off, we know you don’t win international games in the first, second or even third quarter. France played fabulously well, we didn’t expect that.”
GB’s hopes of making Saturday’s semi-finals rest on their final group game against Japan tomorrow (Friday).
“We’ve got tricks up our sleeve to play them,” said Brown. “We’ve got different line-ups, you’ll see different combinations of players, different ideas of presses and tactics.”
“It’s a must-win game, but they all are now,” added Barrow. “We have to step it up a level, but we’re confident we’ll hit them with everything we’ve got. We’ll be going hard at them.”