Finding strength in numbers

Queen’s unique reserve system values individual contributions to the club as a whole

Playing against teams throughout Ontario, the men’s rugby reserve squads give all players a chance to improve their skills and work their way to the club’s upper teams.
Playing against teams throughout Ontario, the men’s rugby reserve squads give all players a chance to improve their skills and work their way to the club’s upper teams.

Men’s rugby rolls 173 players deep.

It’s a roster made possible by a unique system of team selection: a system of no cuts.

While the Gaels’ first team competes in the OUA, Queen’s also features five to six reserve sides on an annual basis. It’s a unique, inclusive philosophy enforced under head coach Peter Huigenbos, who has led Queen’s for the past 10 seasons.

“I’m not going to look at a kid who comes out for two days [of training camp] and tell him that he can’t play rugby,” Huigenbos said. “No kid has ever gotten better at any sport by not playing it.”

No other varsity team at Queen’s runs on the same structure, including women’s rugby.

By bringing every playing candidate into the club, Queen’s gives players the opportunity to improve their skills and play at a high level.

“We’ve built the system to allow for anyone who is coming to Queen’s, who wants to play rugby, and wants to work hard, and is willing to tackle the guy across from him,” Huigenbos said. “We want him to play rugby at Queen’s.”

The reserve squads compete across Eastern Ontario and the GTA, taking on all sorts of university and club teams. With so many players to choose from, each team’s roster is never set in stone.

The composition of each squad is a fluid process, changing on a weekly basis. On Tuesday nights, Huigenbos and his assistant coaches review the past weekend’s games. They look at who played well and who needs to train more.

“The common misconception is that we have a set number of teams, each with a coach and a certain number of players,” Huigenbos said. “Someone who played really well for the fourth team last weekend may be playing for the first team this weekend based on his performance. And it works the other way as well.”

Though this system may seem unconventional, it has led to great success, including two OUA championships in the last four years. The excellence of the club system is also evident through the numerous success stories that have come to fruition over the last several years.

When former Gael Dan Moor arrived at Queen’s in 2008, he was placed on the fifth team as full back. By 2012, Moor was captain of the first squad, a leading OUA scorer and a two-time OUA champion.

“Dan Moor is a very good example of why we have this system and the depth of players that we do,” Huigenbos said. “If we didn’t do that, he would not have done any of the things that he accomplished at Queen’s because in his first year he would have been cut.”

Current Gaels first-teamer Brendan Sloan is another player who worked his way through the ranks. In 2010, he played on the seventh team — the Gaels’ lowest tier at the time.

Last weekend, he scored two tries for the first team in a 62-0 win over Waterloo.

“If there were set teams like there are at other universities, guys like me would have been cut years ago,” Sloan said. “This system reinforces hard work and rewards those who make progress.

“It also keeps the guys on the varsity team working hard, because they know there are a handful of guys that are trying to take their spot.”

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