Third time’s the charm for rugby

Gaels prepare for third straight OUA final this weekend as they face the Western Mustangs for Ontario glory

Gaels eight-man Pat Richardson drives for a try during the Gaels’ Oct. 3 one-point win over the Mustangs in London.
Gaels eight-man Pat Richardson drives for a try during the Gaels’ Oct. 3 one-point win over the Mustangs in London.
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Supplied Photo by Larry Pancer
Second-row Hank McQueen breaks through two tackles during Saturday’s 17-8 semifinal win over McMaster.
Second-row Hank McQueen breaks through two tackles during Saturday’s 17-8 semifinal win over McMaster.
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Flanker Alistair Clark drags a Marauder to the ground during Saturday’s semifinal at Kingston Field.
Flanker Alistair Clark drags a Marauder to the ground during Saturday’s semifinal at Kingston Field.
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Tomorrow’s final is a matter of looking forward rather than back for the men’s rugby team.

This Saturday, the undefeated Gaels travel the long road to Markham once more to compete in their third-straight OUA final at Fletcher’s Field. They hope to bring home their first Turner Trophy since 2001, the last time the Gaels finished a season 8-0.

Last year, the team lost OUA rugby’s Holy Grail to the McMaster Marauders after giving up a 10-0 lead, dropping two men and eventually losing 18-10.

“The whole team’s been looking forward to this season and getting to this point ever since the final last year,” head coach Peter Huigenbos said. “We talked about it this week, it’s exactly where we want to be and we’re definitely looking forward to the game on Saturday.”

The Gaels will take on the Western Mustangs, who they beat 13-12 during the regular season. The Mustangs are the only team that lost to the Gaels by fewer than 20 points.

Huigenbos said his team are preparing for their most difficult test of the year.

“Western has always had several strong players in their lineup over the last few years and we know that they’re a good team,” he said. “We have prepared accordingly to approach the game knowing that the two best teams in the OUA are squaring off for the gold medal.”

Even with the ghosts of two lost finals following his team, Huigenbos said his team is calm going into Saturday’s game.

“There’s a little bit of nervousness for any playoff game you’re going to play. The guys are looking ahead to this game on Saturday and are focused on getting the job done.”

Flanker Alistair Clark, who played in both past finals and captained the team last year, said he’s excited for the opening whistle.

“This is going to be my last game at Queen’s, and I’m really enjoying this last week of practice with all the guys,” he said. “It’s not every day you get to play on a team with all your best friends so I’m really enjoying it and really excited for the game.”

Clark said the Gaels are looking forward to the chance to test their mettle against the Mustangs.

“In sports in general you want teams to be as evenly matched as possible because you get the best competition and that’s what it is with us and Western,” he said. “It’s not like against weaker teams where it’s almost pre-decided. The decisions you make really matter against Western.”

The intense rivalry between the Gaels and Mustangs is never absent whenever they play each other. Clark said it’s largely due to the competitive nature and history between the two sides.

“When you come up against the same team over and over and over again—in my first years it was Queen’s-Western in every semifinal—it’s going to get intense,” he said. “There’s players on both teams that are so competitive, everyone just wants to win all the time, and tensions can get high when everyone wants to win that badly.”

Inside centre Graeme Dibden said last year’s loss was a motivating factor for this year’s team.

“It’s tough to ignore the experience for last year, the whole team’s going to try to use the experience of losing last year as motivation for this year,” he said. “We want to get the job done. There’s only so much you can hang on a great regular season and it all comes down to winning when it matters in the big games.”

Dibden said the small size of the pitch that Queen’s and Western play on during home games will create an additional challenge for both teams when playing on the large pitch at Fletcher’s Field.

“The bigger surface at Fletchers will put more pressure on our kicking game and our counter-attack, but will also give us more space to move the ball wide which is what we do best,” he said.

With so many graduating players this year, Dibden said the team has drive to finally win.

“It’s do or die. We know we’ve got a good group of guys that are going to be around here next year, but for the guys who are graduating, this has been four years in the making. It’s very important to us.”

If you’re planning on making the trip down to Fletcher’s Field, tickets can be bought at the PEC for a fan bus. Tickets cost $30 and include a game ticket.

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