Men’s rugby avenge last year loss to win OUA Championship

Gaels beat Guelph 62-17, win program’s 23rd Turner Trophy.

Queen's won their 23rd Turner Trophy.
Queen's won their 23rd Turner Trophy.

After a year in the hands of the Guelph Gryphons, the Turner Trophy is returning home.

“We were never going to be satisfied until we got that championship,” first-year head coach Dave Butcher said.

This has been the theme of the men’s rugby team’s season. It’s been a sentiment Butcher has preached since the early days of training camp in August and a lingering goal for players who lost out on championship glory in last fall’s OUA title game.

As waves of current and former Gaels players rushed Nixon Field celebrating in below-freezing temperatures on Saturday afternoon, Butcher knew he could finally soak in the moment.

Queen’s had won the OUA championship — their fifth in six years — over the Guelph Gryphons by a commanding score of 62-17.

“Over the moon,” Butcher said of his feelings with the victory. After the game, the Gaels celebrated behind their coach near the Nixon field goal posts by taking photos kissing the Turner Trophy, others hugging and smoking cigars.

“[It’s] the pinnacle of our whole season,” the coach added of the game. “And I’m satisfied not only to win it, but in the way we won it.”

Since assuming the role as the team’s lead coach this summer, Butcher and his staff set a precedent. Talk in the dressing room was never about winning — Butcher said his players “never once, in any game they’ve played, mentioned they wanted to win a match” — but rather about performance.

He said the team’s season focus would be matchup-specific, noting “what we want to do and how we’re gonna go about doing it” as their preferred approach to games. Performance, in other words, came before a game’s result.

Saturday’s championship effort was no different.

“The boys epitomized what we’ve been doing all year in terms of the process in performance,” Butcher said of his team’s play, “and right from the first whistle to the last whistle they were excellent.”

The Gaels — who saw six of their players receive OUA All-Star nods this season — set the tone early, scoring within the first two minutes of regulation. Their defense, which Butcher last week told The Journal was the “foundation to [the team’s] success,” also kept busy in the opening half, limiting Guelph to just three points and heading into the break up 29-3.

“It was huge — huge,” Butcher said, alluding to how important his team’s defense was in the win. “Guelph … credit to them. They threw absolutely everything at us, but they just weren’t able to break us. It’s a testament to the boys’ work rate on defense.”

Winger and fourth-year Kainoa Lloyd agreed with his coach.

“Even though we scored a lot, what really helped us was our defense,” Lloyd said. He added the appointment of Butcher this season “brought a lot of defensive work to us that really showed [because] we barely had any points scored on this season.”

After extending their lead 43-3 in the second half, Guelph converted on a pair of tries to no avail. Queen’s would cruise till the final whistle and bag the program its 23rd OUA gold medal, most of any Ontario team.

“We just decided we were gonna stick by the game plan, not do anything fancy — keep it simple,” Lloyd said. “And that’s what made us win.”

“It’s great to end […] on such a dominant win. I mean, nothing’s better than winning an OUA gold medal in Kingston at home — so I couldn’t be happier leaving Queen’s like this.”

With last weekend’s championship matchup marking the team’s seventh consecutive title game appearance, optimism was riding a high. Butcher, however, believes this is just the beginning.

“I think this is only the start of what we can do,” he said of his hopes for the future of the program.

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