Rugby, Sports

Redbirds rugby squeaks by Gaiters to advance to the RSEQ Championship

On Oct. 29, the McGill Redbirds (6–1) faced off against the Bishop’s Gaiters (4–3) in the RSEQ men’s rugby semi-final. The lively match ended with the ‘Birds edging past their opponents in a tight 20-18 win. 

The game had a true playoff atmosphere with the Redbirds attracting their usual rowdy crowd for the do-or-die match. But it was the Gaiters who attacked first. Right out of the gate, the visiting team strung together several solid plays, helped by their strength in the scrum. The Redbirds conceded an early penalty, allowing Bishop’s to take a 3-0 lead. The Gaiters continued to press the Redbirds’ defence and were seemingly in control of the game but failed to convert their second penalty.  

McGill broke a bit of back-and-forth action with a try by third-year hooker Evan Tennant in the 16th minute of play. (McGill Athletics and RSEQ incorrectly attributed the try to openside flanker Zachary Auger.) Captain Monty Weatherall then slotted the conversion attempt between the pipes to give the Redbirds a 7-3 lead. 

The Gaiters fought back fiercely, and tempers flared on the field as the game devolved into a slow, gritty affair. Towards the middle of the first half, the visitors snatched the Redbirds’ lead away with a penalty conversion and a try in the 33rd minute. The 11-7 lead did not last long, as the Redbirds answered in the 36th minute with a try from Auger. The fourth-year pierced the Gaiters’ defence to help McGill retake a slim one-point lead. Weatherall completed the conversion to add to the Redbirds’ tally. The ‘Birds then hunkered down on defence until the final play of the half, when Weatherall delivered again to put McGill in the lead going into the break. 

The start of the second half followed similar patterns to the first: Chirpy comments, physical plays, and strong Bishop’s back play. The Gaiters crept into Redbird territory and scored an early try in the 54th minute. A successful conversion led to an 18-17 lead for the visitors. The rest of the time held much back-and-forth play with close chances on both sides. A few instances of sloppy play from the Redbirds created some tense moments for home spectators, but the team recovered with a hard press to penetrate the Gaiters’ zone. 

A penalty conversion by Weatherall rounded out the game’s scoring, but the drama continued till the very last second. In the 78th minute, both Gaiters and Redbirds fans held their breath as Bishop’s was granted a penalty kick. The conversion fell short of the posts, and the Redbirds’ supporters breathed a collective sigh of relief as McGill held on to win 20-18. 

“Their best asset […] was their perseverance, they stayed tough and played hard even with all the adversity that came,” said Redbirds assistant coach Greg Gallant in an interview with The McGill Tribune.  “They kept it together and played hard until the end.”

Weatherall reflected on the team’s overall play in a post-game interview. 

“I feel relieved. We had a job to do today, and we did it,” said the captain. “It wasn’t pretty, but it doesn’t matter. It was still a win.”

Alex Pantis, a tighthead prop with five years on McGill’s rugby team under his belt, emphasized the significance of this upcoming championship game.

“I’ve been here a long time,” he said. “And I haven’t ever felt this good about a team.” 

“Everyone should come next week,” added Tennant, who hails from Beaconsfield, Quebec. “It’s gonna be a pumping crowd; we’re gonna put on a show, and we’re gonna win the championship!”

McGill will compete for the RSEQ championship on Nov. 4 at home against Ottawa’s Gee-Gees. 

QUOTABLE: “We knew we had the dominant pack today, and in the second half we really took it to them. We were stronger, we were bigger, and we showed it.”  — Third-year hooker Evan Tennant

MOMENT OF THE GAME: In a scrum turned around by McGill, Owen Cumming stole the ball and handed it off to Zachary Auger to score the try in the Bishop’s 10. 
STAT CORNER: McGill’s Redbirds are ranked first defensively in the RSEQ while Bishop’s Gaiters are ranked first offensively. In both the regular season and the playoffs, defensive superiority dominated as they swept Bishop’s in both games.

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