The men’s rugby team’s 22-game undefeated streak came to a halt last weekend.
In their first appearance at the Canadian University Rugby Championships in Victoria, B.C., the Gaels came away with a silver medal after a hard-fought 21-10 loss to the University of British Columbia (UBC) Thunderbirds in the tournament’s final. Despite dominating OUA play for successive seasons, the defeat marked the team’s first loss in over two years, dating back to the 2016 provincial final.
Held from Nov. 21 to 25, Queen’s played three matches over a five-day span. They kicked off tournament play by beating the University of New Brunswick (UNB) Ironmen 76-5 on Wednesday.
In an interview with The Journal, Head Coach Dave Butcher said his team felt comfortable heading into their match with UNB.
“We knew they probably weren’t going to be the strongest—but in saying that, they were really committed in what they did,” Butcher said. “I just don’t think they were used to playing the speed of game that our boys can play.”
“All credit to New Brunswick: it’s the first time they’ve been [at nationals] and they never gave up, even though they were on the other end of a big score.”
The lopsided margin of victory was standard practice for Queen’s, whose point total average this season hovered around 69 points per game. Defensively, they didn’t waver either. Butcher said the performance was “some of the best rugby [the Gaels] played this year.”
In their semifinal against the University of Victoria Vikes—who finished their regular season with a record of 5-4—Queen’s squeezed their way to a 15-8 win.
Although the Vikes are one of the better teams in Canada, Queen’s stuck to their game plan and pulled through. According to Butcher, the game was the biggest fight his team faced all season.
“Some of the players came off and said it was one of the toughest games they’d ever played,” he said. “[T]he speed of how we can operate really caused them trouble … Once again, we just stuck to the game plan and we didn’t change anything.”
By the time the Gaels reached the gold medal game, they only had two days to recover—it would be their third game in five days.
Fatigue notwithstanding, Queen’s finally met their match in the championship game. They fell to UBC, the defending national champion, 21-10.
Despite leading 7-3 at halftime, Queen’s weren’t able to contain the Thunderbirds to close out the match. UBC managed to score two tries and penalty kicks in the last half of play, while the Gaels put up a mere three points.
“After we went in at halftime in front, the boys played some really good rugby,” Butcher said. “We genuinely thought we were going to win the match.”
Since joining the program in the fall of 2017, the loss against UBC was Butcher’s first as Gaels head coach. While he admitted his team ran out of gas in the latter stages of the game, he remained proud of the way his players competed.
“I don’t think I could have asked anything more of the boys,” Butcher said. “They were absolutely spent when they came off the pitch, physically and mentally. I’m really, really proud of how they operated right the way through the season.”
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