The men’s rugby home opener was a nail-biter, from opening kickoff to the bitter end.
The Gaels suffered their first loss of the season on Saturday in a tightly contested 22-20 match versus the Western Mustangs. A last-minute penalty decision saw Western capitalize for the two-point victory on Queen’s home turf.
“[It was a] questionable call made by the ref, but at the end of the day we didn’t put together what we wanted to,” said fly half Brendan McGovern, who replaced fellow fourth-year Liam Underwood in Queen’s lineup. “That’s not what decided the game, anyway.”
The first half saw two evenly matched teams dictate the game from the defensive side, which ended in a 7-5 Western lead.
It wasn’t until the second half when play opened up. Gaels flanker Matt Kelly’s crunching tackle on the opening kickoff was ruled a penalty, setting the tone for the rest of the game.
In front of a vigorous Queen’s crowd, the Mustangs responded with an early 12-point barrage with tries from Conor Trainor and Eric Selvaggi.
Early in the second half, Queen’s substituted in rookie fly half Adam McQueen, allowing McGovern to return to scrum half — his regular position. Soon afterward, the Gaels’ offense started to click.
“It was one of [McQueen’s] first games coming in as a first-year, against a tough opponent in a hostile environment,” McGovern said. “He did well to step up.”
Despite trailing late in the second half, the Gaels remained composed and returned to controlling the game defensively.
After tries from Kelly and fellow forward Tim Richardson, Queen’s found themselves down 19-17 with 13 minutes left to play.
“The forwards dominated,” McQueen said. “The boys kept their heads up. The intensity was there the whole game.”
Queen’s had a chance to take the lead for the first time in the dying minutes.
McQueen stepped up and converted on a 40-yard penalty kick, undeterred by the pressure or the heckling Western supporters trying to break his concentration.
“I’ve got my routine. I’ve done that since I was 12, so I kept my head on,” McQueen said. “I practiced that kick yesterday about 10 times in the area, so I was ready.”
The Gaels 20-19 lead was short-lived, as Western was awarded a penalty kick in the final minute. Helped by the wind, Joe Dalia’s kick sailed through the uprights to seal the game for the Mustangs.
The penalty against Queen’s was called due to obstruction off the Mustangs drop-kick from half.
“Some calls go for you, some against you,” McQueen said. “They could have argued my penalty [and] we could have argued theirs, so I guess that’s the way it goes.”
“No one wants to lose a game like that. It happened that we got the rough end there, but we still have the playoffs.”
Western is now just two points behind Queen’s in the standings. If the teams end the season tied, home advantage for the playoffs will favour the Mustangs.
The Gaels (2-1) will face off against the Waterloo Warriors (2-2) Saturday at 3 p.m. on Nixon Field.
— With files from Peter Morrow
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