In 2015, for the first time, the Australian national men’s and women’s teams competed in the 10th CMAS Underwater Rugby World Championship in Cali, Colombia from 26 July to 01 August.
Twenty seven players in the national team were selected in April 2015 following a competitive process led by international coach Ricardo Andres Iriarte Pulido. To train, national team players from across Australia met at training camps in different cities (ie Sydney: Feb 2015, Brisbane: April & June 2015), as well as regular training sessions with their local clubs.
Representing Australia in the World Championships will raise the international profile of underwater rugby, provide an elite level of competition for Australian players, and build capacity, skills and knowledge to continue building the league at home. The team has already been highly successful in domestic and international competitions, including the Trans-Tasman Cup (2009 – 2014) and the Pan-Pacific Cup (2015).
Updates from Cali, Colombia
A really exciting opening day for both the men and women's teams! Spectators streamed into the grandstands to watch the games, providing a fantastic atmosphere for both teams to play in.
The Aussie men had the honour of playing in the opening game against the host Colombia, one of the best teams in the world and favourite for a podium finish. Our Aussies provided a solid defence and did a great job in fending off the goal-hungry locals. The final score was a respectable 20-0 to the Colombians.
Next up was the women's team, who took on Venezuela in what may have been the most contentious match of the Aussie women's games. The Aussies played a strategic game, with the first ever Aussie goal scored by forward, Hannah Barrenger. It was a nail-biting finish which included a own-goal by the Venezuelans and a final score of 2-2.
@uwrugbyorg wrote that the "Australia and Venezuela played one of the best matches thus far in the Cali 2015 World Championships". Read more.
First, the Aussie women were up against the Colombians at 9am. The game was an enjoyable one, with swift and clean play, where both teams chose strategy and agility over rough play. By half-time, the score was 6-0 to Colombia. The Australian's maintained a solid defense throughout the game, with the final score at 14-0.
Next, the Aussie men were up against Norway, the defending world champions and utter powerhouses in the water. The Norwegians were not forgiving to the newcomers. They used their huge build, massive strength and impressive tactics to score goal after goal. The Aussies gave their best in defense, and the highlight of the match was when Aussie Ricardo Iriarte successfully defended a penalty against the Norwegians, a nearly impossible feat. The crowd went wild for the underdogs. The final score was 34-0 to Norway.
Day Three of the World Championships brought women a well deserved rest day. The men continued the underwater battle, this time against Spain in the last game of the day. The match opened with an early goal by Spain, but the Aussies came back with an equaliser, scoring the first goal of the championships for the Australian men's side. A string of bad luck followed for the Aussies, including a two minute time penalty and broken fin, and ultimately another goal for Spain. The Aussies put up a good battle but didn't manage an equaliser. The final score was 2-1.
It was a bright and early start for the women's team on Day Four of the World Championships. They played against Finland, a top European team with decades of experience playing at the highest levels of underwater rugby. The Aussies were solid in their defence and made numerous counter attacks, putting pressure on the Finnish corner. The Aussie girls played well with structure, held their positions under intense attack and were tenacious in fights for the ball. The Finns won out 8-0 in the end, which is a remarkably good outcome considering the difference in experience between the teams.
The men had an tense game against the USA, another relatively new team on the underwater rugby scene (the USA has however already attended two previous World Cups before). The Aussies were off to an early lead with Justin Rees charging towards the goals to score on an open basket. But the glory didn't last long, two Aussies were given a time penalty leaving only 4 Aussies against a full 6-sided opposition. USA took advantage of the opportunity to score, leaving the final score 2 - 1 to the USA.
After an afternoon nap, the women's team were back in the pool for the last game of the day against Sweden (two time previous World Champions). This was an important game for the Swedes as they needed at least 15 points to secure top group position and bump Colombia to second place in the group. The Aussies held off goals in the first quarter of the match but the Swedes slowly increased the pressure. At half time the score was 8-0 and many of the Aussies had experienced masks being pulled off their faces in an extremely physical game. The Swedes made it clear by the way they were playing that they would chase those 15 goals at any cost, equipment infringements and body checks notwithstanding - but this only made our girls even more determined to thwart them. As the clock ticked down to just 2 minutes left, the score was at 14-0 and the Aussies were passionately intent on denying the Swedes the satisfaction of scoring that one last goal they wanted so badly. 2 minutes became 1 and then 1 minute became 10 seconds - the Aussies held up their tenacious defence despite numerous waves of Swedish attacks, at times with all six of Swedish players under the water wrapped around the Aussie goal. But the Aussies kept holding on, pushing the attack back out until the 10 seconds whittled away into 2, 1 and then the toll of the buzzer rang out "buzzz-buzzzz-buzzzzz" signalling the end of the match.
Who could imagine losing by 14 goals would ever feel this good?
It's been a winning day for both Australian teams today and their last games of the championship. The last women's game today happened at 10am. A historic win for Australia against USA. Their first championships, their last game and their first win, 8-2. The men played against South Africa and won their first game, 15-0.