After running away with the Turner Trophy just two weeks ago, the men’s rugby team is one win away from the Canadian University Rugby Championships in Victoria, B.C.
On Wednesday, the Gaels decisively beat the University of New Brunswick Ironmen 76-5 in the tournament’s first match. They claimed the game as their own early, scoring the first six tries of the match in the first half. The Gaels never lost the lead and went into Thursday’s match with the University of Victoria Vikings with their winning streak at 21 matches long.
Queen’s faced a taller task against the Vikings, who finished their season with a 5-4 record ahead of the tournament. Before the match, Head Coach Dave Butcher said his team’s match against the Vikings would be one of their hardest of the season.
“I’m sure they’ll be very competitive,” Butcher said on Tuesday. “They’re a very good program, very well coached, so I think it’ll be [one] of the hardest games this year.”
Butcher’s predictions were true: against Victoria, the Gaels didn’t score until the 23rd minute when second-year Sam Ibbotson ran in the team’s first try of the game. Going into halftime, Queen’s led just 7-5.
In the second half, the Gaels trailed for the first time all season after the Vikings hit a 3-point penalty kick and led 8-7 going into the final minutes of the game. Opting not to take a penalty kick 25 yards out, third-year Trevor Helgason ran in Queen’s second try of the game with three minutes to go.
Hitting the conversion, the Gaels would hold on and win 15-8. It was their smallest margin of victory all season—their closest game came in their 40-13 win against Guelph during the regular season.
The win propelled Queen’s to the National Championship final, which will take place this coming Sunday at 1 p.m.
Ahead of the tournament, Butcher said he expected the Gaels to continue their winning streak, all the way to the finals.
“Every time we go into something, we go to win, so obviously the expectation is to go and perform to our capabilities and win every match,” Butcher said. “I think the boys will do what they did [at the OUA Championships].”
Playing two games in two days was an irregularity by all accounts for Queen’s—during the OUA regular season, they played one game each week. The championships shortened each game by ten minutes to compensate for the high volume of rugby being played.
“It’s a lot of games in a short amount of time … but it’ll be a big psychological and physical test for the boys to stay on form for that amount of games,” Butcher said of his players’ fitness.
On Thursday, the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds defeated Guelph to cement their spot in the finals. The Thunderbirds—who finished their season with a 9-2 record and beat Victoria 45-26 earlier this year—will be the Gaels’ final roadblock to being crowned the best in the country.
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