Ever since their November 13 2016, OUA Championship game loss to the Guelph Gryphons, the men’s rugby team has had September 30 circled on their calendars. Although there was no championship on the line during Saturday’s rematch, Queen’s remained undefeated on the season after a statement 36-24 home win against the Gryphons.
With the Nixon Field stands packed with fans, Queen’s looked to start the game on the right foot. Just three minutes into play, hooker Brendan Blaikie weaved through the Gryphons backline to score the game’s first try. Although they didn’t know it then, Blaikie’s score set the tone for what would be an opening 40 minutes dominated by the Gaels.
“I thought the first 20 minutes of the game was the best rugby we’ve ever played,” head coach David Butcher said. “And we stayed that way up until halftime.”
Although they headed into half-time with a 26-7 lead, the Gaels’ confidence would be short-lived. In the second half, Queen’s looked sluggish and disorganized.
After two tries by the Gryphons in quick succession, the Gaels’ lead was cut to just five.
Whereas Butcher called the first half some of the best rugby the Gaels have played this season, he labelled the second half as “the worst half of rugby we’ve ever played.”
Contested finishes to games against Guelph are something Queen’s has become familiar with. The last time both teams met in the OUA Championship last fall, a 24-24 tie at the end of regulation eventually ended with the Gryphons triumphing over the Gaels in penalty kicks.
But familiarity with their opponent, at least relative to Saturday’s game, played in Queen’s favour. They collected themselves in the closing 20 minutes of the second half — playing with the same kind of offensive intensity they carried to open the game — and tacked on another 10 points before sealing their 36-24 win.
— Queen’s Gaels (@queensgaels) September 30, 2017
To swing momentum back their way, Butcher said the team focused on controlling the speed of the ball coming out of contact plays.
“[K]nowing that we could outwork [Guelph] in terms of speed around the park and getting the ball to the line,” the coach added, was also imperative to the team’s late-game resolve.
Even with the win, Butcher wasn’t completely satisfied with the performance. With some tactical errors in the second half, he knows the team can continue to improve.
“A win’s a win. We’ll take it, and we’ll talk about the performance later in the week,” Butcher said.
The Gaels now sit atop the OUA at a perfect 5-0 record, with Guelph as the only team trailing them at 4-1. They next play Brock, U of T and McMaster before gearing up for the first round of the playoffs later this month.
Though emotion could have been a defining factor against Guelph, Butcher said the Gaels tried to take a proverbial approach to the game.
“It’s just another game,” he said on whether the win meant a little something extra for his players. “Right now we’ve just got our sights set on winning the league […] every game is just how we perform and how we’re gonna win — and how we can build towards that [championship].
“When we win the final, we’ll be satisfied,” Butcher said.
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