Costly loss to Mac

Road to nationals now goes through Guelph Gryphons

A 5-3 loss to the McMaster Marauders at West Campus on Saturday means the previously-undefeated women’s rugby team has a near-impossible route to the national championships in November.

With only one game left in the regular season, the Gaels will likely finish in second place behind the Marauders in the Russell division — the OUA’s Eastern conference. This means they’ll have to beat the first place team in the Shiels division — the Western conference — in the OUA semifinals to qualify for nationals.

They’ll face the Guelph Gryphons, a team who’s outscored opponents by a total of 339 points in four games this season to clinch first place in the Shiels division. They’ve been Ontario champions in four of the past five seasons and haven’t lost a game against OUA opposition since 2007. Last season, they beat the Gaels 54-5 in the OUA finals.

“We’re super disappointed,” captain Susan Heald said. “We all had the semifinal against Guelph in the back of our minds when we were playing that game.”

The loss shouldn’t come as a major surprise — the Gaels may have been 3-0 before Saturday, but they’ve underperformed all season. It took a last-minute try from rookie Bronwyn Corrigan to beat the Brock Badgers (1-3) at home two weeks ago. They were sloppy in their win against the York Lions last weekend. And they could only score three points at home on Saturday against McMaster.

The Marauders squad was looking for revenge. Last season, the Gaels won 15-14 in Hamilton to clinch first place in the Russell division. They went on to beat the Waterloo Warriors in the OUA semifinals en route to a fifth-place finish at the national championships. The Marauders lost 39-0 to the Gryphons and didn’t qualify for the nationals. Only the two OUA finalists qualify for the tournament.

It felt like a playoff game on Saturday. The teams combined for only eight points in a physical battle with very few scoring chances. Most of the game was spent in the middle of the field.

“Every single ruck was like a fight to the death,” Heald said.

The Gaels struggled to deal with high winds, playing far more cautiously than in previous games this season. With the wind behind them in the first half, the Gaels carried the play, but could only score off a penalty conversion from Corrigan to lead 3-0 at the half.

“Going into second half, I had a feeling that we didn’t score as much as we needed to in the first,” Heald said. “We definitely played it too safe.”

The Marauders immediately took advantage of the wind in the second half, scoring early to take a 5-3 lead. The Gaels responded by controlling much of the play and holding most of the possession, but they couldn’t score in Marauders territory.

“We were just basically playing ping pong across the field and not making any yards,” Heald said. “We missed opportunities when they were there.”

The Gaels will likely beat the University of Toronto Varsity Blues next weekend to finish 4-1 on the season. They’ll be favoured to win their OUA quarter-final match. But they won’t beat the Gryphons dynasty.

The whole season revolved around Saturday’s game. The Gaels needed a win to return to nationals. That’s not going to happen anymore.

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