After reclaiming its status as the province’s best with a commanding win in the 2017-18 OUA Championships, the men’s rugby team isn’t showing signs of slowing down.
Coming out of training camp, the Gaels hit the ground running in their first regular season game, ending in an impressive 74-6 win over Waterloo.
Although the first twenty minutes of the game were “a little bit sloppy,” Gaels head coach Dave Butcher told The Journal in an interview, the team led 36-6 at halftime before scoring 38 more points in the second half.
Butcher said the team arrived at training camp fitter than in previous years, putting them two to three weeks ahead of where they were at the start of last season.
“One of the big things is how fast we can move around the pitch, hence why we need the boys in such fit physical shape to play like that,” Butcher said, now in his second year leading the Gaels.
“We’ve started that already … We can see how fast the guys are moving, and how hard we’ve been pushing them.”
With his team at mid-season fitness levels, Butcher’s feeling confident about their ability to control the flow of the game. He said his main focus is on his team’s internal, on-field intent and approaching the season with a methodical game by game approach.
“We haven’t banned talking about winning, but the language that we use talks about winning within the game,” Butcher said. “Their desire and intent to perform is there already, so the errors they’re making are because they’re pushing themselves so hard, rather than errors through lack of effort.”
Despite key players Alex Colborne and Kainoa Lloyd graduating, the Gaels brought in six recruits this offseason—all of whom played on the under-18 Canadian national team last year.
The team is looking at a full schedule of competition this coming fall season, with only one weekend off between their opening match last week and the OUA final.
Beyond league play, Butcher and the Gaels are hoping to attend this year’s national championships, which are scheduled in Victoria, B.C, this coming November.
The Gaels opted against playing in the championships last because their scheduled start fell too close in with the OUA Final.
This year, however, there will be two weeks between the OUA final and the championships, allowing the men ample time to rest between competitions.
Due to a high volume of rugby, Butcher knows that keeping the athletes healthy is a priority for the team to succeed.
The work of the Gaels’ strength and conditioning team and therapy staff is “just as important as the coaching staff,” Butcher said. “Those are the guys that keep them on the pitch, and we are the guys that coach them on the pitch.”
Regardless, the team stands confident for the rest of the season. Butcher said the prospect of playing at nationals adds another level of excitement for his team.
The Gaels’ game on Sept. 28 against the Guelph Gryphons, who Queen’s has played against in the OUA final for three consecutive years, will likely give them their toughest run for gold. Butcher added the Laurier Golden Hawks—his team’s next opponent this coming Saturday—could also be a conference contender.
“We’re looking forward to playing [Laurier] because it will show us where we are … We’ll have to really perform to get a win out of these guys,” Butcher said. He added the team’s plan of attack, irrespective of opponent, remains the same to last season: focus on what is of control to the task at hand.
“We focus on what we do, and the rest will take care of itself.”
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