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11 November 2013

Wheelblacks call on player Maia Amai to help in South Africa

New Zealand's wheelchair rugby team is hoping history repeats at the IWRF Asia-Oceania Zonal Championships in South Africa - and they've called on female player Maia Amai to help them.


Manukau's Amai is part of the eight-strong team heading to Pretoria next Friday for a championship they last won in 2005 in Pretoria. Coach Peter Martin praised Amai, who is set to be the third woman to play wheelchair rugby internationally.


"Maia has shown a very rapid development," coach Peter Martin explained. "She has come on physically so has great speed, good ball handling and inbounding ability.


"Being one of a very few Kiwi girls playing, Maia doesn't get the chance to sit back in our game - she has to get stuck in and take on the guys, so this means she has developed alongside the guys and gives as well as she gets, if not better.


"With this attitude, and her speed, she compares very favourably with other female players around the world.


While winning the tournament is the main focus, they're also aiming to knock Japan off their perch as the fifth-best team in the world.  If New Zealand do so, there's a possibility of gaining funding from Paralympics New Zealand as well as being invited to tournaments restricted to the top eight teams in the world.


"With Japan there is a new coach who has brought in new players, and with a few returning players, it is difficult to say just what impact he will have," Martin said.


"We currently have a world ranking of 10th … [but] there is no doubt within our squad we have some real talent developing, which has yet to show its full potential.


"Our ultimate goal, in this four year cycle, is a podium finish at the Rio Paralympics 2016. [But], as a small sport, with a small player base, with relatively little support, we need our top athletes to strive to perform at their highest level, to be self-driven, self-motivated, in order they achieve their potential."


Within the current Wheel Blacks' ranks, there are only two players who have competed in more than two World Championships, Auckland's Dan Buckingham and Christchurch's Sholto Taylor.


Martin added their influence was integral to the Wheel Blacks progression to the Rio Paralympics.


“From a coaching perspective, it is great to see these guys really enjoying their rugby after so long in the sport, and contributing significantly to our team performance and culture.”


The side will be co-captained by Buckingham and Wellington’s Gavin Rolton. The tournament begins on November 18.


New Zealand Squad: Dan Buckingham (captain),Cameron Leslie, Sholto Taylor, Maia Amai, Robbie Hewitt, Adam Wakeford, Phil Spring, Gavin Rolton. Coach: Peter Martin.