One win away

Rugby single game from title three-peat

Fifth-year forward Tommy Kirkham is one of several Gaels with a chance to win a third straight OUA title tomorrow.
Fifth-year forward Tommy Kirkham is one of several Gaels with a chance to win a third straight OUA title tomorrow.
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If men’s rugby triumphs in tomorrow’s OUA final, Andrew Carr and his teammates will once again experience the emotion of a league championship.

The Gaels prevailed over the Western Mustangs in each of the last two provincial title matches, with both wins coming on Nixon Field.

Now, the team needs to get by the Guelph Gryphons at home tomorrow. They’re one win away from bringing home gold, and inspiring what Carr called “the best feeling in the world.”

“To cap off a three-peat, just continue the success would be amazing,” he said.

Queen’s advanced to the OUA championship after rumbling through the McMaster Marauders 61-0 at home last Saturday.

A third-year fly half, Carr said the Gaels are facing pressure to win another banner, but aren’t focusing on the magnitude of the game.

“We try to approach the game as we would any other week,” he said. “But it’s definitely there in the back of our minds. Some of the younger guys, definitely you can tell that they’re nervous about it, but for some of the older vets, we’ve been there, we know how to approach and how to deal with it.”

Carr said the presence of experienced coaches helps keep things calm at practices. The Gaels’ coaching staff has preached treating the final as any other game.

Sticking to what works, Carr added, will propel the squad to the championship.

“Just exploit their weakness and pull on our strengths,” he said. “We’ll come out on top if we do it all right.”

Tomorrow’s title clash will prove definitively whether Queen’s or Guelph is the province’s best team. While the Gryphons sat atop the OUA in points scored with 414, Queen’s held their opponents to a league-low 65 points.

Each team sat second in the statistic they didn’t lead the league in. Queen’s boasted three of the top 11 scorers in the OUA, while Guelph had four of the top 15.

The Gaels won 33-17 when the two teams met on Oct. 4 at Nixon Field, overtaking the Gryphons for first place in the OUA and netting home-field advantage for the final.

Gaels head coach Gary Gilks said his team’s experience will end up making a difference in the match.

“It’s going to be huge because we actually have quite a few players who will be playing in their third championship in a row,” Gilks said. “We’ve got a lot of experience on our side. Guelph does not. It’s been a while since they’ve been to an OUA final and it’s just compounded by the fact that they have to travel and play here in Kingston.”

Queen’s is undefeated in their last 15 games at Nixon Field. Their last home loss was a 22-20 defeat at the hands of the Western Mustangs on Sept. 22, 2012.

“For us playing at home, the fans are such a huge part of it,” Gilks said. “Our boys get a good night’s rest the night before and we just love playing at home.”

Guelph holds a size advantage over the Gaels, Gilks said, but the Gaels have plans to counteract this.

“Our philosophy is put the ball in their end and use the territory,” he said. “And then on defence — which has always been the strongest part of our game — we’ll just keep the pressure.

“Even though we don’t have the ball, as long as we play in their end, keep up the defensive pressure and look for them to make mistakes … and we’ll capitalize on trying to convert those into points.”

During the regular season, teams are rewarded with an additional point in the standings if they record four tries in the match.

In the final, though, the only thing on the line is the championship.

“The philosophy of the game changes a bit as opposed to the regular season, simply because it doesn’t matter now how much you win by in the final,” Gilks said. “Saturday, it doesn’t matter if we win by one or if we win by 20.”

Gilks added one final message about his team’s year.

“I’m proud of how our players have worked both on and off the field. I think they’ve deserved to host the final,” he said. “I think they’re going to put on a pretty good show on Saturday.”

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