Ryley Batt Is “Not That Good” At Wheelchair Rugby
In last week’s That Paralympic Blog – Is Ryley Batt Too Good At Wheelchair Rugby? – I created something of a ruckus by suggesting that the man in question was perhaps not disabled enough to play his chosen sport.
So yesterday, I can only imagine how heavily his heart sank on seeing me trundle towards him across the wheelchair rugby court.
Australia’s star player had just dealt the GB wheelchair rugby team the drubbing of its life in the final match of the London International Wheelchair Rugby Tournament. The 22-year-old, who was born without legs and only two fingers on each hand, was utterly instrumental in demolishing the Brits. The final score of 71 – 48 left everyone in the Basketball Arena at the Olympic Park with no doubt that Australia are aiming for the top podium place at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
Two post-match TV interviewers had already showered him with praise for his performance. And then third in line was me – sporting a cocky grin and clapped out dictaphone. I got as far as “Hi Ryley, my name is J…” before he interjected with, “Yes, I know who you are.”
After dispensing with a handful of mildly sycophantic warm up questions – the answers to which I had absolutely zero intention of committing to print – we got down to business. How does Ryley Batt answer accusations that his on court dominance is due to an unfair advantage?
“I’m not that good a player,” says the man who had just scored 30 of his team’s 71 total goals against my beloved home nation. “People might label me the best player in the world, I don’t think that. Teams can stop me – they just need to work out how. You watch the United States playing against us and they’ll contain me really easily. I don’t think Great Britain made the best job of that today.”
Ryley has a point in this regard. Too many times in the preceding match the GB defence had fallen to pieces close to the half way line – Australian players would wrestle the ball from GB, chuck it up the court towards Ryley, Ryley would break away from the pack and cruise over the goal line with relative ease. This pattern was repeated time and time again.
“Every team has got a guy in it like me now, a guy with good trunk (torso) function,” he adds.
Again, it was hard to avoid the truth in Ryley’s statement. Looking around at the London International Wheelchair Rugby Test Event, it was clear that the days when wheelchair rugby teams were predominantly made up of spinal cord injured players are long gone. Of the four nations competing – Australia, GB, Canada and Sweden – a myriad of different disabilities could be seen in players at all ability levels.
In wheelchair rugby, each player is classified with a points rating from 0.5 to 3.5 according to their physical ability, with 0.5 representing the least able and 3.5 the most able. Teams are only allowed four players with a maximum combined total of 8.0 points on court at any one time.
The result is that teams will tend to either field a squad composed entirely of mid-ability 1.5 to 2.5 players to spread the talent evenly across the court – or they will field a combination of high ability 3.5 or 3.0 players and lower ability 1.0 or 0.5 players. Up to eight extra players per team can be used as substitutions, meaning that mid-match tactical changes are commonplace.
In the preceding match, both teams had opted for the latter tactic, with GB putting most of their faith in 3.5 point player Aaron Phipps as key goal scorer, and the Aussie’s in 3.5 point Ryley.
GB had admirably managed to keep pace with the Australians in the early stages, finishing at 18 to 19 goals respectively at the end of the first quarter. But it was in the second quarter when the Aussie death grip took hold. An Australian substitution brought on player Chris Bond, also a 3.5 player – not with a spinal injury, but an amputee resulting from a viral infection.
With both Ryley and Chris on court at the same time, the two 3.5 point players planted goal after goal.
Sometimes Ryley was taken off court to rest. Sometimes Chris was taken off to rest. Either way, it didn’t matter. Aaron Phipps fatigued and GB did not have another 3.5 or 3.0 player to help maintain their early momentum. Despite the fact that Ryley and Chris’s 7.0 points combined total left the Australian team with only one point free to pick their remaining two players – GB were totally outclassed and outgunned in whatever combination of players they tried using to counteract the Aussie onslaught.
Again, true. It’s not just when he is on the attack that Ryley is a danger to his opposing team. His sheer size means quite often his wheelchair can appear to be stuck fast to the floor when players try to charge it. Ryley’s disability can in no way be an unfair advantage in this regard. If anything, his lack of legs means he’s at a disadvantage when it comes to overall weight.
So why is Ryley Batt so good at wheelchair rugby?
“I’ve been good at sport since I was born and this is the sport I chose,” he laughs, seemingly not prepared to extrapolate on his answer any further than that. “But I don’t mind people questioning whether or not I’m disabled enough to play wheelchair rugby. There’s politics in every sport. It’s publicity and it’s good that people are talking about the sport, so as a player you just have to brush it past. Even if it is complete bullshit.”
Do you think Ryley Batt is too able to play wheelchair rugby? Let us know by leaving a comment!