This week, England Wheelchair international, Sébastien Bechara, talks to us about his journey into wheelchair Rugby League, friendly rivalry between teammates and discusses his nation’s opponents at RLWC2021.
A motorbike accident in July 2012 resulted in Bechara becoming a right leg below the knee amputee. It was in a moment during his recovery, that the 27-year-old decided to dedicate his time to become a star within the wheelchair game.
“I remember it was in July 2012, which was what nine years ago now,” explains Bechara. “The period of the London Paralympics. They were just starting, and I remember being in my hospital room back then watching the Paralympics start and thinking – right, that’s where I’m going to be in four years’ time.”
“I started working hard on my recovery and then was going from [one] rehab centre to the other. I finally got into the final rehab centre, where it had all sorts of facilities.
“I started playing some wheelchair basketball to start having some fun, and I thought at the time, I was an absolute beast in the wheelchair. So fast and agile. Of course, I was just playing with other patients who were just learning [to use] a wheelchair and weren’t used to playing sports.”
Though wheelchair basketball provided Bechara with an output during rehab, it was a chance encounter with a former France captain that helped him discover his true calling.
“One day, I met Cyril Torres, who was the current captain of France wheelchair Rugby League team,” Bechara stated. “He watched me play and invited me over to try wheelchair Rugby League at Catalans Dragons. When I started training with them, that’s when I realised how bad I was.”
“Back then at Catalans, four of the players I was playing with went off to the 2013 World Cup in Medway, England, and they were crowned world champions,” Bechara explains. “I was learning from the best at the time, which helped me progress really quickly.”
Now a fully-fledged Catalans Dragons representative, the England international is excited by the potential of a match-up against some of his club teammates at RLWC2021.
“Of course, who wouldn’t enjoy some rivalry in competition?”
“It’s a crazy feeling; actually, you see them three or four times a week, sometimes train with them, play with them, you have drinks with them, they’re like brothers to me.”
“Rugby teammates are a very special thing, but when it comes to the most important game of your life, suddenly playing against them, that’s a game where you’ll do absolutely anything to win.”
Born in Nottingham, the former Leeds Rhinos and Halifax representative moved to France at the age of ten. However, he takes great pride in representing his country of birth.
“Who wouldn’t feel proud about being able to represent your country? I mean, it’s that feeling of putting your England top on and going out on the pitch and screaming out the national anthem.
“We have a team manager, Martin Coy, that’s always behind you during the national anthem and halfway through always screams ‘louder!'”
“Honesty, it’s hard to get to the end of the anthem without ending up in tears.”
With this year’s tournament edging closer, Bechara has already started to weigh-up his opponents ahead of their fixtures at RLWC2021.
“The Spanish captain is actually a club teammate from Catalans Dragons, so expect some great brotherly rivalry there,” Bechara said. “I’m really expecting them to show that they’ve acquired a lot of experience in the last four years, and I’m sure they will be fighting for a spot in the semi-finals.”
“Australia have always been a very strong side,” Bechara explains. “I expect them to be in great form and be a huge challenge. That’s actually our opening game, so we’ll have to turn up and just give it everything straight away from game one.”
“Norway are a really tough one because I have actually no clue what to expect. I’ve never seen them play as a country,” Bechara states. “I trust them to turn up with a team that’s ready to fight for a win.”
Although Bechara may have begun to focus on his opponents, ultimately, he is aware that the main focus remains on one single goal – greatness.
“Alongside my England teammates, we’re just aiming for nothing else than being world champions. We’ve got the capabilities, the work ethic; we have the players in-depth now [and] we’ve got the staff to support.”
“We have everything now to get there. I think we’ll get to the final, so we can finally pick up that World Cup trophy; that’s what we’re aiming to achieve.”
After heartbreak in the 2017 final, the England international is determined to not suffer the same fate this time around. With home advantage, Bechara hopes to fulfil a dream of representing his country at London’s iconic Copper Box Arena.
“It’s actually a dream come true,” Bechara said. “To be able to play in the Copper Box Arena that can hold up to 7400 spectators, I’ve played in crowds where there was maybe 3000 people and it’s absolutely mad.”
“We need them; we need you England, not only for them to discover the greatest sport on earth but also to support your country,” Bechara explains. “Show the other nations that this is England, this is our home, and no one is coming here to grab the trophy.
“We need thousands of English people there shouting and supporting us; showing us that they’re there for us and they’re supporting us on the road to a World Cup victory.”
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