Ruggers place 2nd at nationals

Late surge not enough to stop Lethbridge

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Western women's rugby

Jonas Hrebeniuk

THIS MAKES THE SPANISH INQUISITION LOOK LIKE A SWEDISH MASSAGE. The women's rugby team was immersed in ferocious action this past weekend in the national championships at St. George's rugby pitch in London. The Mustangs fell short to the Lethbridge Pronghorns in the final.

The 2006 rugby season left a nasty taste in the mouths of the Western women’s rugby team. With a revamped offensive system, and new faces on the field, Western looked to erase past memories and bring the national title back to London in 2007.

With their sights set on nationals, the ’Stangs dismantled their Ontario opponents on their way to the 2007 Ontario University Athletics title.

The Canadian Interuniversity Sport Championships were again held at the St. George’s rugby pitch. The best teams from the three Canadian conferences battled it out for national prominence.

The ’Stangs cruised through the round-robin portion of the tourney and secured a semi-final berth against the division rival Guelph Gryphons, who defeated them in the 2006 OUA Championship.

This year, Western had an opportunity to avenge its heartbreaking loss " this time on the national stage. With great field conditions and home field advantage, the Mustangs dispatched the Gryphons 26-5 and secured a meeting with the Lethbridge Pronghorns in the gold medal game.

Guelph head coach Collette McCaulay knew Western set a game plan and wanted to prepare accordingly.

“We really wanted to work on defence; we practiced all week on driving them back, and they did well,” she said. “It was our offence that let us down today, we needed to match the points [Western] put up.”

The first half saw Western open the scoring on a well-executed run by LaToya Blackwood capped off with a try by Allison Lamoureux. Western dominated the possession game holding onto to the ball over 25 minutes of the match.

Mike Hopper, assistant coach for Western, was happy with how his team performed against its provincial rivals.

“We decided to stay with the same game plan that’s proved successful for us the last three or four games,” Hopper said. “This system allows them to play a really controlled style of play in an attempt to minimize the chance of mistakes.”

This set up the all-important match against Lethbridge, the squad Western narrowly defeated in the round-robin portion.

Right out of the gate, Western rumbled deep into Lethbridge’s end, where the Pronghorns recovered the ball in the hopes of moving it out of their 22. A blocked punt resulted in Western’s first try of the game courtesy of Nicole Bailey. A missed convert kept it a one-possession game for the visitors.

The Pronghorns, with their big front line, played a solid game from then on, holding onto the ball for the better part of the game and biding their time until they moved the ball wide.

Their hard work and perseverance paid off when they capped off a long drive past the Mustangs’ try line with Christie Pierson scoring the equalizer with minutes remaining in the first half.

Injured Mustang Martha Goodrow noted this is the type of game championship teams should play.

“This game is tight, and close,” she said. “Blowouts are nice but these are the games that we love to play.”

The second half was all Lethbridge, roaring out of the gates with a ball recovered from a scrum that Brittany Orr ran from the Pronghorns’ 22 to paydirt " a failed convert kept it close at 10-5 for the reigning Canada West champs.

Another try for Lethbridge at the midpoint of the second half from Pierson seemed to knock the wind out of the ’Stangs, but the home team persevered and marched the ball down the right wing for a try to keep the game close at 15-10 for the visitors.

With only minutes to spare, Western opened it up and began a long hard drive into Pronghorns’ territory. It seemed a try was in sight, but Western could not materialize.

The game whistle sounded and the steady competitors from Alberta celebrated their first CIS title.

Western assistant coach Matt Barr knew what was on the line and saw what needed to be done on the pitch.

“With possession style, it all comes down to the team who gets stuck in the hardest and plays for the win,” Barr said. “Hats off to Lethbridge " they battled hard.”

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