Wheelchair Rugby: Great Britain aiming for medal at Rio 2016

By Stuart PollittBBC Sport at the World Championships in Odense, Denmark
Great Britain wheelchair rugby team beat Denmark
GB finished a creditable fifth at the 2014 World Championships in Denmark

Before and after every USA match a burly man called Bob Murray with an impressive goatee beard stands in the middle of a circle of American wheelchair rugby players and shouts at the top of his voice.

"One, two, three," he bellows.

"USA rugby," they all bellow back before Bob with the goatee slams a ball down so hard that it reverberates around the Arena Fyn in the Danish town of Odense and bounces 40 yards into the air.

At the end of their matches, the Great Britain team gather in a similar huddle and shout "GB" in a less raucous, more understated, more British way.

Coverage of Great Britain at the World Championships

Maybe it is something they have learned from the Americans - maybe not - but there is plenty that the GB squad are picking up from the number one-ranked team in the world.

This young British side trained with Team USA at its Alabama base earlier this year. They impressed American head coach Joe Gumbert.

"The Brits have really taken big strides," he said.

"And to see the youth and the development and to see them taking the strides that they have is awesome to watch. They certainly have some up-and-comers."

One of those up-and-comers is Ayaz Bhuta. The 25-year-old from Bolton has been named the player of the tournament by fans at the Wheelchair Rugby World Championships in Odense.

Bhuta only joined the main GB set-up two years ago but is one of a number of players in their mid-20s.

He said: "I've come through the ranks with these guys with seven or eight of the development squad and we're all like a big family.

"It's such a tight unit. We're all growing and learning together."

The British team finished this tournament fifth - in line with their world ranking - behind the big four established nations - the USA, Canada, Australia and Japan.

At these World Championships they came agonisingly close to beating Canada, losing in the second period of overtime.

Great Britain wheelchair rugby player Ayaz Bhuta
Ayaz Bhuta plays his club rugby for West Coast Crash

For experienced GB captain Mike Kerr, success is just around the corner.

The Glaswegian said: "We need to go and win the European Championships next year and then after that we've obviously got Rio 2016. We should be looking to get a medal there."

David Pond, the chief executive of Great Britain Wheelchair Rugby, accepts that with more than £3m of UK Sport funding through to Rio there are no excuses.

Next year sees a new tournament - the Wheelchair Rugby Challenge - at the Copperbox, in London's Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, for the top eight teams in the world.

It will be played during the 2015 Rugby World Cup next October and is one of a number of links between the two sports.

GB Wheelchair Rugby has a head office within the RFU headquarters at Twickenham and works with the community arms of Premiership clubs like Leicesterexternal-link and Saracensexternal-link to grow the sport.

Pond said: "At London 2012 wheelchair rugby was the most popular sport so we think we have got a good audience anyway domestically.

Great Britain at the 2014 World Championships
L: GB 46-55 Australia
W: GB 54-31 Finland
L: GB 58-59 Canada (in overtime)
W: GB 52-48 Denmark
W: GB 45-43 Belgium
W: GB 55-45 New Zealand
W: GB 52-48 Denmark (5/6 place play-off)

"But that link with able-bodied rugby means there'll be lots of supporters over for the Rugby World Cup so we think we'll be able to attract them as spectators to the event," he added.

But Pond says that the best way to attract new players and new fans is to have a successful team.

American coach Gumbert, who saw his side fall to a shock semi-final defeat to Canada at the World Championships, is in no doubt that GB success will happen sooner rather than later.

"I see them as a serious threat now," he said.

"They're not just knocking on the door they're trying to go through it."

And the other side of that door needs to be medals if the GB team are to realise their potential - and justify the investment.