Heated homecoming

Pride and placing on the line with historical rivals in town

After losing to Western in the 2011 OUA final, Queen’s has beat the Mustangs the past two title matches.
After losing to Western in the 2011 OUA final, Queen’s has beat the Mustangs the past two title matches.

There’ll be more than just first place on the line when men’s rugby hosts the Western Mustangs tomorrow on Nixon Field.

The match is just the latest iteration in a rivalry that’s heated up over the last few years. Queen’s and Western have met in the past three OUA finals, with the Gaels taking home the gold in 2012 and 2013.

The Gaels (5-1) currently sit atop the OUA standings with 26 points, one ahead of the Guelph Gryphons (5-1) and the McMaster Marauders (5-1). Western (4-1-1) sits fourth with 22 points.

Gaels head coach Gary Gilks said the rivalry increases the already high stakes whenever the two teams face off.

“This is one of the key matchups that we look forward to every season,” Gilks said. “It’s a very good rivalry. Both teams get pretty amped up to play each other.”

A win over Western would increase Queen’s slim lead in what has become an increasingly tight OUA race.

Gilks said the team isn’t feeling pressure to maintain first place, but acknowledged the match’s importance.

“The guys understand for sure that the last two games of the season are crucial for ranking,” he said. “To get that first-place position in the regular season, because of the home-field advantage in the playoffs.”

The game will likely be tight, Gilks added, and hosting the game over Homecoming weekend could prove to be beneficial for the Gaels.

“For us, having Western come here during the regular season is going to be an advantage for us,” he said. “Having the fans and their support and the fact that it’s Homecoming is huge.”

The Gaels aren’t focusing on any specific aspects of the Mustangs’ game, instead preparing themselves for all parts of it, Gilks said.

Defence will be the most important part of Queen’s game on Saturday, as the Mustangs boast a high-powered offence. Western’s 256 points are third-highest among OUA schools, and they claim seven of the province’s top 20 scorers.

Much like they did in last year’s final — a 40-10 win — the Gaels will have to neutralize Western’s offensive game. Queen’s is up to the task, holding their 2014 opponents to an average of less than nine points per game.

“The key for any of our games to be honest, against Western or anyone else, it’s our defence and our discipline,” Gilks said. “Our defence has held in quite a few of these tough games. I expect our defence to create turnovers and hopefully we can capitalize on those turnovers.”

As strong as they are defensively, the Gaels might have just as much skill on the offensive side. The squad sits second in the league in scoring, and full back David Worsley is among the league’s leaders with 78 points.

Though the two teams are intimately familiar, each game brings something different to the rivalry. Gilks said he has made sure to study Western’s game film before the game.

“We both do our homework. We studied video of them during this week to prepare for them and I know they do the same,” he said.

Gilks said he’s confident the Gaels’ experience will pay off in the game.

“It’s really going to be which team can respond better to the pressure,” he said. “I have full confidence in our guys and what they can do. They’ve been there several times, so they know what has to be done and they’ll go out there and get the job done.”

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