A New Sheriff in Town
McGill Martlets Stun Stingers 41-34 to Win First Provincial Title in 8 Years
Stingers women’s rugby head coach Graeme McGravie said in September his only two goals for this season were to go undefeated in the regular season and make it to nationals.
The Stingers accomplished the first one with relative ease. But they’ll have to wait until next season for a chance at accomplishing the second one.
The McGill Martlets stunned the stingers 41-34 at Concordia Stadium last Friday night, overcoming freezing temperatures and a frenzied home crowd to win the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec conference crown.
The Martlets, ranked sixth in the country, are headed to nationals for the first time since 2005.
The fourth-ranked Stingers, who had captured the provincial title four times in the last six years, were left struggling to explain the loss.
“I don’t know what happened to us in the first half,” said fourth-year number 8 and team captain Hughanna Gaw.
“I don’t know if they came out hot or we came out cold, but they definitely played the first half like they wanted it more than we did.”
McGravie kept his explanation simple. “We lost,” he said bluntly. “We didn’t make enough tackles and we lost.”
Friday night featured Round 2 of a battle of strength versus strength, with the Stingers’ provincially top-ranked defence taking on three of the top five scorers in the conference, including RSEQ MVP Brianna Miller.
The first time these two teams met, in Week 3, Concordia eked out a 17-15 win.
This time around, scores came early and often—for McGill, that is.
The Martlets opened up the scoring just two minutes into the game when centre Caroline Suchorski broke a tackle near the Concordia 10-metre line before bursting down the right touch line and into the try zone to give her side a 5-0 lead.
The Stingers answered in the ninth minute, when rookie centre Alexandra Tessier spun the ball over to fourth-year fullback Jenna Giuliani, who beat McGill centre Casey Thornburn to the corner of the try zone from 30 yards out to tie the game.
But that’s when the Martlets began to settle in, spending most of the remaining half on Concordia’s side of the field. It was a half that saw the usually technically sound Stingers hampered by sloppy play.
“We missed one-on-one tackles that you just can’t miss in the final,” said Gaw. “Those were crucial tackles that we just let slip through our fingers.”
The Martlets made the most of Concordia’s miscues, scoring three more tries and a converting two kicks en route to a 24-12 halftime lead.
The Stingers’ woes continued into the second half, finding themselves down 38-15 with just 25 minutes left to play.
It was enough time for the Stingers to mount a furious comeback, however, as they cut the deficit to just 41-34 at the 75-minute mark.
“We could’ve easily packed it in at halftime, but we came back as a team and we didn’t give them anything,” said Gaw. “We fought for it.”
With momentum on their side, mere seconds remaining and the ball back in their hands, the Singers pressed into the McGill 10-metre line and looked headed for a chance to tie the game.
But the team was called for obstruction moments later when a Stinger ran past the ball carrier and into an opposing player, giving possession right back to the Martlets.
With victory all but official, Miller punted the ball into the McGill half of the stands as the fulltime whistle blew.
“We gave them too many chances and too many points [in the first half],” said McGravie. “By the time we started playing our game in the second half it was too late.”
It’s the most points the Stingers have given up in a single game all year; the team allowed a conference-best 62 points all regular season long and gave up just 3 in their 35-point win over the Laval Rouge et Or in the semifinals.
“I didn’t expect them to score that many points on us,” said Tessier, wiping away tears.
“Tonight, [the defence] just didn’t work together. We made some little mistakes and that’s what cost us the game.”
As for her own performance, the RSEQ recruit of the year had little to say.
“I wish I did more,” she said.
Tessier, who led the Stingers in scoring in the regular season, finished with no points on the night.
As heartbreaking a loss it may be, it’s one that surely will serve as motivation for the Stingers’ 2014 season.
“This is a resilient group,” said McGravie. “We’ll be back. You look at the scoreboard and that’s enough to fuel you coming back.”
He wasn’t just talking about himself.
“I was planning on not coming back, and this makes me want to really come back,” said Gaw. “I don’t want to finish like this.”