The Concordia women’s rugby team secured a berth in the finals this Sunday with a 33-5 win over the Ottawa Gee-Gees.
This Friday night’s final against the Laval Rouge et Or will mark the Stingers’ fourth consecutive appearance in the final with a record of 3-1 including last year’s victory which sent them to nationals.
Sunday’s semifinal was the first hurdle towards the championships. The squad faced off against a gritty Ottawa side with a physically intimidating forward pack. “They’ve got a couple of beasts out there, for sure; the two props are heavy hitters. They’re solid and they’re fit, it’s not like they can only play for five to 10 minutes. They get around the field and they’re always there,” said head coach Graeme McGravie.
It only took two minutes after the opening kick for Concordia to score. Veteran forward Hughanna Gaw came out of a ruck with the ball and was tackled into the try zone to make the score 5-0.
It only took three more minutes to even the score. The Gee-Gees thundered down the field and winger Natasha Watcham-Roy beat the back line at the end to touch it down. That was the lone try for Ottawa as Concordia’s defence didn’t waiver for the rest of the game.
Sarah Scanlon pulled the Stingers ahead when she touched the ball down in a pileup on the try line. Jackie Tittley added the kick to make it 12-5.
The strength of Concordia’s game this year has come from the forwards. McGravie likens his strategy to that of the New York Giants: do one thing really well and depend on it. In every game this year the pack has dominated their opponents. But in the semifinal, they were challenged by Ottawa’s gritty forwards and decided to let the back line take on a bigger role.
“I think there was a bit of added responsibilities on the backs today,” said McGravie. “We talked at halftime about how our games have been mostly forward-dominated affairs, they’re not real happy about that because they don’t get the ball. We addressed that this week and I thought they played much better in the second half.”
“I’m not going to lie, a few times I was sort of nervous when the ball went out the backs,” said captain Claire Hortop, “I don’t know if it was their best game — at least defensive-wise they totally covered their bases. It’s just the odd time you come up from the ground and you just did something good and you look back and the ball is 20 metres behind you and you’re like “What happened?'”
Winger Jenna Giuliani scored on a solo run midway through the first half and inside centre Tittley added the conversion. Standout rookie Cara Stuckey made four consecutive tackles all while pushing Ottawa back.
The second half of the game began with the Stingers back on their heels. A passing miscue and bad hands almost saw the Gee-Gees take advantage of their own missed penalty kick. This near-try lit a fire under the Stingers who came back hitting hard.
Adara Borys punished a Gee-Gee when she got caught standing still with the ball in her hands and Jessie Lapointe bowled over her tackler on a kick return. The Stingers marched downfield and were rewarded with a try by outside centre Kim Whitty. “It was finally nice to get the ball and prove to not only the coaches [but] to the team [and] to the fans that we have backs that have good hands and that we can score trys in the backs when usually we score more in the forwards,” said Whitty.
By the time Ottawa’s best forward was injured and taken out, Concordia had the game in the bag. They added an insurance try by Jessica Beaudry and a kick by Tittley.
“She was on the field all of like 30 seconds and she scores the try,” joked McGravie after Beaudry’s last minute score.
That finished the scoring at 33-5 to advance the Stingers to the next round. They will face archrival Laval Rouge et Or on Friday night on home turf.
“It’s going to be tight, but I think we’re really hitting our stride,” said McGravie. “We’re looking forward to playing Laval. For some reason we still think we’re the underdog when we play them, but I’m relishing the challenge for sure.”
Concordia will take on Laval at home on Friday at 7 p.m. Entry is $5.