Amazing matches and fantastic crowds were a feature of the Wheelchair Rugby competition at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
Eight mixed-gender teams competed over four days amid a cacophony of noise at the 12,000-capacity Carioca Arena as the sport delivered on all fronts.
Finals can sometimes be a bit of a let-down with the magnitude of the occasion getting to the players, but it is hard to recall a better game than the gold medal decider between reigning champions Australia and fellow Wheelchair Rugby powerhouses, the USA.
From the moment Chuck Aoki crossed the line for the opening try for the Americans, Australia knew they were in for a match.
An epic struggle ensued between the tournament’s two unbeaten teams as the play relentlessly went back and forth.
And at the end of normal time, there was nothing to separate the sides, Aoki’s scoring pass to the energetic Josh Brewer levelling the scores at 49-49.
The crowd were simply delighted to have three more minutes to watch, such was the quality of Wheelchair Rugby on show.
Like with any sport, the big occasion calls on the big players to deliver and Ryley Batt, Wheelchair Rugby’s biggest superstar, scored what turned out to be the winner with one minute and three seconds left on the clock.
Batt’s 27th goal of the final made the score 59-58 but there was still time for one last USA attack.
Unfortunately, for the well-supported Americans, Josh Wheeler received the ball over the line while he was out of the field of play and what would have been the equalising goal did not count.
Australia retained possession and it was left to Batt, who else, to punch the ball into the air, as the clock turned red, and start the celebrations.
Hosts hold their own
While Australia became the first team to win back-to-back Wheelchair Rugby titles and rightly took most of the plaudits in Rio, the overall standard of play was exceptional from top to bottom.
Largely unknown in Wheelchair Rugby circles before the event, Brazil proved themselves to be a competitive team that got better with more court time under their belts.
Having lost their pool matches to Canada, Great Britain and reigning champions Australia, Brazil took on and nearly beat France in the seventh-place play-off, losing narrowly 59-54.
In Julio Braz, the world’s number 10 ranked team also unearthed one of the new stars of the sport.
For Braz, playing in front of a passionate home crowd was, without doubt, the greatest moment of his fledgling career in the sport.
“It definitely had a positive impact, my family and friends could watch the sport I play for the first time and really started following my career,” he said.
“It was really a privilege to play in the biggest and most important competition in my home country.”
In the bronze medal match, Japan denied Canada a podium finish for the first time since Sydney 2000 with a 52-50 victory.
It was Japan’s first-ever Wheelchair Rugby Paralympic medal and another milestone moment in a fantastic 12-month period for Japanese rugby that had seen the Brave Blossoms beat South Africa at Rugby World Cup 2015 and the men’s national rugby sevens team stun the All Blacks Sevens in Rio.