For the first time, the McMaster women’s rugby will play in the CIS Championships.
After earning a semi-final victory last weekend, Mac has earned a spot in the OUA final and clinching a berth in at nationals for the first time in the program’s history.
They’ll face powerhouse Guelph, the only other undefeated team on the year, on Saturday for the title.
Mac’s historic victory is thanks to a 31-10 victory over the Badgers at Back Ten Field on Oct. 22, a comprehensive win that saw a balanced performance from McMaster prove too much for the overmatched Badgers.
Facing better conditions when compared to last week’s rainy and cold match, the teams traded possession for the first ten minutes, with the Badgers surprising the heavily favoured Marauders with strong ball play.
The Maroon and Grey offence was not to be denied for long though, as Natasha Turner broke numerous tackles on her way to a try, with rookie Cindy Nelles kicking the convert. The Marauder women soon settled into a rhythm, pushing play consistently into Brock territory.
After a Nelles penalty kick, Turner scampered for her second try of the day. Yet another successful convert from Nelles meant that Mac would take a comfortable 17-0 lead into the half.
The second half saw much of the same for the Marauders. Turner would score her third try of the match off a throw-in, and Claire Lockhart would cap off the day with a try of her own, thanks to a brilliant run from Alex Fairgreive. Nelles would finish a perfect four for four kicking converts.
While the game finished comfortably for the home side, it took some time for the team to kick into high gear. Following the win, coach Cam Mitchell spoke about his team’s slow start and their resilience.
“I think that we played very well. Our first ten minutes was a bit rough, they came and stole a lot of balls on contact, so it took us a while to adjust,” said Mitchell. “I was very proud of what the girls did after ten minutes.”
Lockhart would also draw praise from her coach for her tackling on the day, which saw the Marauders earn another playoff shutout, after blanking Toronto the previous week. The coach discussed his team’s recent defensive success.
“We’ve played the exact same system all year,” he explained. “We’ve always had good tackling, it’s just that the system’s come together and things have tightened up, so if one person misses a tackle we’re there to help them now.”
Indeed, the Marauders have been using the same system all year, a system that has been spearheaded by captain Maggie Cogger-Orr. Mitchell spoke to the importance the third year fly half has had.
“Maggie basically holds everything together,” said the coach of his captain. “She makes all the decisions out there, she calls the plays, basically I help develop the system but on the field I try and shut up and let her run things and she does a very good job.”
The Marauder offence was led by the usual suspects, including Turner, Kim Ngai and Nelles. The coach applauded their performance, noting the impact the players have had.
“It’s huge because it makes simple plays work very well,” said Mitchell. “We don’t run too much fancy stuff, we just stack our athletes against their athletes, and I think we have a pretty favourable comparison.”
As the match ended, many Marauder veterans were visibly emotional as they realized it would be their last match on Back Ten Field. However, there is still rugby to be played, as the team has booked a date with the four-time defending OUA champion Guelph Gryphons.
The Gryphons hosted Queen’s in the other semifinal, and in a form true to their season-long dominance, Guelph shut out the Gaels 50-0. Queen’s simply had no answer for the attack and defensive strength of the Gryphons, who showed why they have owned the OUA and were ranked second in the nation after the regular season.
A McMaster-Guelph final has long seemed inevitable, with both teams running the table in the regular season. Fans of OUA rugby will undoubtedly be watching the two best teams in the province battle for supremacy, with two unbeaten teams going head-to-head.
The match will be played at Guelph’s Varsity Field on Oct. 29 at 6 p.m.
Coach Mitchell explained his strategy for taking on such a daunting opponent in one word.
“Pressure. They are a very good offensive team, they put up a lot of points. We just want to put them under pressure, make them make mistakes and see how they are in a game against a more evenly matched team,” the coach explained.
While the semi-final win guarantees a historic berth at Nationals, Mitchell said his team is focused on the OUA title game first and foremost.
“We’re looking at the OUA Championship first, and we’ll worry about Nationals next week,” he said.
For those interested in being on hand for the OUA final, a fan bus will be travelling to Guelph on Oct. 29, under the direction of McMaster’s Department of Athletics and Recreation. Tickets for the trip are $5.