All is going to plan for the McMaster women’s rugby team.
Heading into playoffs as the no. 1 ranked team in the University Sports standings, Mac continued their title defence in semi-final action against the Western Mustangs. Having faced each other two weeks ago, Mac was looking to replicate a 43-7 win that would secure a spot in the Ontario University Athletics championship game.
Under the lights at Ron Joyce Stadium on Oct. 21, Mac won the field possession and ball control battles, leading to a 29-0 victory over the Mustangs. With the win, McMaster not only hosts the OUA championship final, but also secures a University Sports championship spot at Victoria, B.C., and will work hard to defend both titles.
McMaster scored five tries in the match, including one each from twin sisters Katie and Sara Svoboda, who made their presence known with elite playmaking ability. The score could have been larger, had Mac been able to finish off big runs and capitalize on Western’s mistakes.
“We had opportunities to score more points,” head coach Shaun Allen said after the win. “I was happy with their defence in this game and the last game as well. A little more polish, and I think we [could have] score[d] two or three more tries. We definitely had our opportunities, and we seized enough of them.”
Leading 19-0 at halftime, the game got more physical in the second half as a frustrated Mustangs team attempted to get back into the game. As McMaster held on to the lead, Western’s lack of discipline led to frustration penalties, ultimately ending with card that caused them to play the rest of the game one player down.
“I was really happy how our players responded,” Allen said. “They didn’t sink to the level of the infringements that Western were doing. They stayed composed and level headed, and they just went out and did the job. Their clear-out skills were pretty good, to the point where Western had to cheat to try and gain some momentum and get some possession.”
The score was tighter than their previous encounter, but holding opposing teams to low scores has been the biggest factor in Mac’s success this season. Even as the game got scrappy as the Mustangs were frustrated by lack of production, the Marauders played smart and kept their play at a high level.
“[There’s been] good individual tackling, fitness, speed, and pressure that we can apply [on our opponents],” Allen said. “Tonight was our most disciplined game on defence so far. We took the least amount of penalties that we have all season, which is really nice.”
While defence is a collective effort in rugby, vocal leadership is key to keeping teammates organized and working fluidly. Scrum-half Lauren Walkden and fly-half Steph Black kept a running dialogue among the backline throughout all games this season, ensuring their teammates are in the right place at the right time. Meanwhile, the back row of Sara Svoboda, Katie Svoboda, and Abi Moody keep the breakdown in check, not allowing opposing teams to make quick runs and consistent gains near the ruck.
With the win, the women’s team is set to face Guelph in the OUA championship game. The Gryphons blanked Queen’s 37-0 on Oct. 22, keeping their own undefeated season alive. McMaster will have home field advantage, but the match should be compelling to watch for all fans, casual or committed.
“We’re going to be in a fight next week,” Allen said. “ It will be an OUA championship [game] next week, so it should be a fight.
Regardless of the conditions, Mac will look to keep to their strategy of a balanced attack and taking advantage of mistakes made by opposing defences. Their practices leading into the championship game.
“I think just making sure that all the players are on the same page, that we’re not over-emphasizing this game, going through the same process that we have been trying to build all season, and really building up to the game in a way that makes sense for us.”
The battle of the OUA’s two unbeaten teams will take place at Ron Joyce Stadium on Oct. 28 at 7 p.m. For any Marauder fan, this match will be must-see, and will show rugby being played at its highest level.