Women's rugby loses heartbreaker

Undefeated season ends with gutsy loss to Laval

Scrum half Bridget Peros sends it down the line.
Braden Garvey

The Queen’s Gaels are national silver medalists after losing a hotly contested match to the Laval Rouge et Or, 22-14.

It was a blustery Sunday afternoon at Ottawa’s Matt Anthony Field and the bleachers were packed, one half allotted to the feverish Laval fans and the other occupied by the screaming Gaels faithful.

The Gaels started the game off with a strong possession, but Laval themselves looked possessed, preventing nearly any Queen’s progress, phase after phase.

Laval eventually got a hold of the ball and stormed down the field the other way. They booted it out of bounds near the Queen’s try zone, and on the ensuing lineout generated a powerful maul that collapsed over the goal line for a try. The conversion missed, and it was 5-0 early.

Not long afterwards, Laval made some clinical passes which culminated in Marie-Laura Choquette busting down the sideline and curling back to the middle of the field to deftly tap the ball down right in between the uprights. The conversion this time was true, putting Laval up 12-0.

In spite of the hole, the Gaels fans didn’t lose faith, and their boisterousness was rewarded by inspired play from the women. After Laval put the ball into a scrum at the Queen’s five-yard line, Queen’s mounted an immense defensive stand, rebuffing attempt after attempt by the Rouge et Or to muscle it over the line.

The brick wall the women erected in front of their try zone was just one example of their physicality on the day. Queen’s, their forwards especially, were tremendous in their tackling all afternoon.

Halftime came, and the score remained 12-0.

The Gaels started putting together some more effective possessions in the second half. After a scrum deep in Laval territory, Queen’s passed out of it and the ball ended up in Carmen Izyk’s hands.

She cut back across the grain and was brought down just before the goal line, but a quick ruck and Sophie de Goede got the ball, and she brought the Gaels within inches. McKinley Hunt popped around the resultant ruck and darted into the try zone to break the shut out.

The delirious crowd managed to shut themselves up for de Goede’s conversion, and it split the uprights. The Gaels were just five points behind.

Laval stormed right back with a vengeance, sending it up the gut until they fell in for a try off another maul. This time their conversion was good, and the score was 19-7 with less than half an hour to play.

Queen’s came through again with another great offensive sequence that culminated in de Goede bulldozing a Laval player over the goal line. The conversion was true and the score was 19-14 with time winding down.

It was Laval’s turn to put the pressure on, and they pushed Queen’s back into their own end. But with their backs against the wall, the Gaels put together another sensationally resilient defensive stand, refusing to give up that last inch time after time.

Queen’s ultimately prevented the try, but Laval had succeeded in burning a lot of clock. They kicked a penalty to make it 22-14, a two-possession game with hardly any time left.

The Gaels made progress down the field, but they couldn’t muster a comeback, and the game ended 22-14 for Laval.

“When you’re talking about in this echelon, it’s any given day sort of situation, where we play ten times, we’re taking five of those,” said Head Coach Dan Valley after the game.

“These [silver] medals represent a lot of work and a lot of effort, you don’t just get handed this medal, you have to earn it with days and weeks and months of work.”

Beyond the loss of the game, a lot of the players were dealing with the prospect of losing their teammates. Fifth years Harlee Bruce, Kara Gani, Pippi McKay, Dominique Rumball, Lydia Salgo, and Sadie Stephenson, all pillars of the program, will be sorely missed next year.

“Above all, I really want to thank our graduating players,” said de Goede after the medals were handed out. “We left it all on the field, and I’m so proud of everything we did. We know we’re going to be back here next year.”

With next year’s National Championship being played at Queen’s, Valley was of a similar mind.

“Something tells me we’ll be back in this situation again,” he mused. “And on that particular day, we’ll go and get a different outcome.”

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