In the men’s rugby team’s season opener, the Marauders took down the Western Mustangs in a hotly contested rematch of the 2016 Ontario University Athletics bronze medal game. In that match, McMaster came out on top and returned home with some hardware. Looking to build off of a successful 2016 campaign, the Marauders are continually building on a new attack system to compete with their opponents.
“The game plan going in was just to keep it really simple,” said coach Dan Pletch. “It was the first game of our season, we had a few brand new players in there…we’re sort of slowly building pieces of the puzzle to our attack system as we go through the season. We wanted to start just doing a few simple things really well and focusing mostly on our defence.”
The Marauders have a long-standing rugby rivalry with the Mustangs. Their win last year was the first time they beat the Western team in a playoff match since the 2010 OUA championship game. Given the history, the team knew to expect an expansive game that would require a strong defensive stand.
Emerging with a 19-12 win, the game was marked by defensive strength and confidence, while also serving as an interesting test to a rugby team that has undergone several significant changes from last year.
With only half of the starting 15 being regular starters in the past, many teams would face a challenge in integrating fresh faces. But coach Pletch found it to be a surprisingly easy transition this season.
“Definitely there was a big turnover but if anything, it was probably a little easier this year,” he explained. “We introduced a totally new attack system last year, so guys were learning it for the first time. But this year, most of the squad would have been exposed to it already, and we are sort of tweaking and fine-tuning some wrinkles. So training camp and preparation was a little easier this year.”
Helping ease the transition and reaffirm the new attack system are veteran players who have already been regular contributors to the team in the past. Prop Mike Smith contributed a try to the Marauders’ win and has helped spearhead their offensive efforts.
“The tight five forwards played really well in general,” coach Pletch said. “Our tight five prop, Mike [Smith], in particular was really solid in the scrum for us. We were able to win a few penalties from the scrum and that allowed us to run into our attack system really smoothly.
Other players like Ryan Gray had to adjust to a brand new position, transitioning from flanker to wing for this season. Gray’s contributions on defence and quick adjustment to his new position impressed coach Pletch.
Heading into their second game of the season, the Marauders looked to really lean into their offensive game and overpower Trent Excalibur on the road and build off of their season opener.
“We were pretty happy with our defence last week to only give up two tries against Western, so we’ve put a lot more of our focus into our attack. Now that we have the basic structure, fine-tuning things and trying to create different options, improve our decision making and running those options when appropriate in the game. We want to continue being sharp on defence and create a few more opportunities and score some more points on attack.”
Mac lived up to that game plan and left Peterborough with a strong 48-19 win on Sept. 9. Now the Marauders will return home for a Sept. 17 matchup against the Guelph Gryphons. The last time the Marauders and Gryphons faced off was in last year’s semi-finals, which Guelph won before moving on to win the 2016 OUA Championship.
Guelph will certainly pose a tough test for the rugby team but will need to be defeated if the Mac men want to contend in the OUA playoffs once again. The Marauders are off to a strong start and owe a lot of their success so far to a game plan that goes beyond Xs and Os.
“We have a young squad that’s working very hard, they’re improving every game,” said coach Pletch. “We’ve been working for the last two or three years really on improving the team culture and making sure that both on the field, as especially off the field, that everybody feels included in all the events and the activities, whether that’s a starting varsity player or our last junior varsity player on the bench, everyone feels equal. I definitely think we are going in the right direction that way.”
This mentality has influenced Marauders’ balanced gameplay on the field and is giving them a leg up on the competition early in the OUA season.