Eyes on the prize

Gaels to play in seventh consecutive title game, look for hardware vs. Guelph

Queen’s beat Guelph 36-24 earlier this season.
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In October, men’s rugby head coach Dave Butcher told The Journal his team had a single objective in mind.  

“We’ve just got our sights set on winning the league,” he said.

This coming Saturday, the Gaels will get their shot.

After a convincing 54-7 win over Laurier in the OUA playoff semi-final, the undefeated Gaels are slated to play in their seventh consecutive championship game. 

“We were hoping we did actually get quite a hard game [and] I think the score-line didn’t show how competitive Laurier [was],” Butcher said on the matchup. Albeit on the surface a lopsided victory, Butcher said Queen’s hoped for a game “where we didn’t just walk over a team.”   

“That was good for us — to be challenged in a few areas.”

By way of home-field advantage, the Gaels play host to the Guelph Gryphons this weekend. Aside from finishing as the first and second seeds in OUA regular season — Queen’s finished first at 8-0; Guelph second at 7-1 — the teams have also met in each of the last four league championship games.

When asked if his players can aptly cope with the intensified pressures of a gold medal game, Butcher is confident. “There will always be that competitive nature going into it … we’ve been by far the best teams in the OUA, so it’s right that we’re both in the final.”

Rather than focus on results, Butcher’s players and coaches fixate on specific roles. He said told them that the results will follow. 

“We’ve never once — in any game we’ve played — mentioned that we want to win a match; it’s all about our performance. We truly believe that if we perform, we get the outcome,” Butcher said. 

Perfect record aside, the Gaels are dominant on both sides of the ball. Their defense, which Butcher called “the foundation to what we’ve built all our wins off,” has allowed an average of just under 10 points per contest. Their offense has been just as impressive, posting 58 points a game.

But Guelph poses a different kind of threat to Queen’s. 

In their lone matchup this season, the Gaels conceded a season-high amount of points in a 36-24 win. Butcher said his team has rectified the areas in which the Gryphons exposed and thinks they’re prepared for any challenge the visitors may pose.

“It was by far the hardest game we’ve played this year,” the coach recalled about the game, “but what we want to do — and it’s a theme of what we do in our defense — is never give them time on the ball … so every time they get the ball in their hands, they feel pressurized.” 

The Gaels’ focus on Saturday will be tailored towards what they excel at — “It’s just about focusing on what we’re doing and how we’re focusing on executing our game [plan],” Butcher said. 

“We can’t affect what Guelph do; we can affect what we do. And that’s what we’ll focus on.”

Since losing to the Gryphons in the championship game last season, there’s pressure for Queen’s to bring hardware back to Nixon Field. But this feeling, is something Butcher said the Gaels are readily familiar with. 

“For us, we put pressure on ourselves every week … The only pressure that’s put on the team and the coaches is intrinsic,” he said. 

 “And I think the guys are ready to cope with that.”

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