The Concordia men’s rugby team advanced to the championships Sunday with a narrow 13-12 win over the Bishop’s Gaiters.
In a thrilling conclusion, the game’s deciding play didn’t come until the last moment. It fell to Xavier Birot, Concordia’s veteran kicker, to give the Stingers the one-point lead. His penalty kick from 26 yards out bounced off the upright and fell in to give the Stingers the two needed points.
It was a game that was harder than it needed to be for the Stingers. Earlier this season, they had beaten the Gaiters 24-7 and 15-13.
“We’re doing it to ourselves and putting ourselves in a bad position,” said head coach Clive Gibson, discussing the Stingers’ weak field position. “Then we need to dig ourselves out, which is exhausting. If we manage to succeed, we take a lot of energy out of ourselves and have nothing left to mount any offensive momentum.”
The Stingers put themselves in the doghouse a lot, taking a total of 12 penalties compared to Bishops’ three. “We definitely made it harder on ourselves with little mistakes,” agreed Stingers captain Curtis McKinney.
Although plagued by errors, the Stingers had moments of brilliance in the first half. Powerhouse eight-man David Biddle offloaded to Dario Pellizzari, who found the hole in the back line to pick up 50 yards. Stinger Alex Ritchie also went for a solo run but was brought down by Bishop’s fullback Andrew Jamieson before he could score. Jamieson couldn’t repeat the try-saving tackle when Concordia’s Jonathan Dextras-Romagnino found the corner to open the scoring.
Tackling was another area where the Stingers excelled. Paul Bouet gave the Bishop’s fly half a spin tackle and Xavier Birot saved a try with a bone-crushing hit on the Gaiters’ Jamieson. Concordia was giving a dump-tackling clinic as at least two Gaiters were picked up and slammed to the ground, much to the fans’ delight.
Bishop’s rallied, however, and forced Concordia into a try-line defensive play. After about six attempts to break the line, Bishop’s finally broke through to score. “We couldn’t deal with pressure. Bishop’s was in our face and we weren’t reacting,” said Gibson. The added conversion put the Gaiters ahead 8-5.
In the second half, the game began to get sloppy. Both sides threw balls away and at times the play looked more like soccer than rugby. Concordia’s strategy was to challenge the Bishop’s pack so that they would be forced to give the ball out to the weaker backs. Concordia’s back line took care of the rest by putting the punishing hits on the ball carriers.
Despite the Stingers’ best efforts, the defence was broken yet again on a try-line stand. The Gaiters’ Stefan Lemieux powered his way through the forwards on a penalty to touch the ball down.
Concordia responded almost immediately with a huge run by Dextras-Romagnino for his second try of the day. “David [Biddle] broke that line. When he has the ball, it takes two people to tackle him, so he took the two guys out and left me on the outside. It ended in a footrace.”
It is surprising that both tries were scored by the backs, because the majority of Concordia’s play takes place within the pack. This game, the ball was effectively sent out wide and the Stingers used the entire field instead of just marching up the centre. “I think this is the first of my years where we trust both backs and forwards on the team and so when that happens its just magic on the field,” said Dextras-Romagnino.
In the late stages of the game, the Stingers were still down by two points. The Gaiters handed Concordia a golden opportunity for the win when they took a penalty 25 yards from their try zone. Birot didn’t fail as he added the winning kick, with a little help from the right upright.
Concordia now advances to the finals next week against McGill. Kickoff is at noon Sunday at Molson Stadium.