Laurier rugby wins first playoff game in modern team history

Photo by Tanzeel Sayani

It was a historic day for the Wilfrid Laurier University men’s rugby team on Saturday, Oct.28, as they recorded the first playoff win in modern team history.

The Golden Hawks overcame the Western Mustangs by a final score of 36-12 and advanced to the OUA semifinals.

Both teams came into the playoff contest with a regular season record of 5-3, but Laurier proved that they were the better team on the day.

Bastien Demas-Pandraud led the way offensively for the Hawks as he managed to score two tries.

“I think we executed really well,” head coach Ian McLeod said, regarding his team’s performance against Western.

Although the Hawks’ season can already be classified as a success, the team isn’t satisfied with just a semifinal appearance.

“We had a game plan [and] we had watched a lot of Western film going into the week. We had established where we had to attack and when we needed to defend and I thought the boys executed it to a tee and played one of their best games of the year.”

It was a long drought for the Hawks as they hadn’t managed to win a playoff game since 1999, which was also when they began to record team wins and statistics online.

The season has already been a huge success for Laurier. The Hawks 5-3 record is a major improvement from their 2-6 record last year.

Coach McLeod pointed out that 2016 was a tough year for the Hawks, especially because of injuries to some important players.

“Last year was a tough year injury wise. We lost a lot of key guys and I think we may be played one game where we had all 15 starters on the field,” he said.

“[That’s] not an excuse because this year we had a great recruiting class that created a lot of depth which pushed a lot of the senior players to be better and not to be too lackadaisical and understand that there’s opportunities for their spots to be taken by someone else if they don’t perform.”

The team went out and added some very talented recruits to the squad this year and that has paid dividends. The younger players have forced the seniors to elevate their level of play and that has been a key factor behind Laurier’s success.

“I think that competition was really good for the program. I think the leadership group itself, the senior members of the team, have done an outstanding job of creating a culture of not just wanting to be there,” McLeod said.

“They want to be recognized as a program that wants to be a good, solid rugby program. It seems to be slowly taking effect, which is great and as a result of that the guys are getting a little more belief in their own skillsets and their teammates along with the system we’re trying to run.”

Although the Hawks’ season can already be classified as a success, the team isn’t satisfied with just a semifinal appearance.

Coach McLeod mentioned that the team hasn’t forgotten their struggles from the past. It’s important for them to stay grounded and take it one play at a time as they look towards their next match up against the Queen’s Gaels.

“We’ve been on the other side of it. We know that on any given day, anybody can beat anybody else in this league. There’s a lot of parity right now in the OUA league. If you don’t show up and give your best, you can be handed a big loss at any time,” McLeod said.

“These guys get that. They realize [that] we have to earn every win. For the most part, they all understand that what’s required is just 100% commitment each and every game, each and every practice,” he continued.

“As long as we go out and do our best, we’ll be competitive. Will we win or not? Who knows on a given day, but we always like our chances now.”

Up next for the Hawks will be the toughest test of the season, as they will face the Queen’s Gaels in the semifinals.

The Gaels come into his game boasting a 8-0 record in the regular season, including a 72-7 victory against Laurier on Sept. 10.

However, this Hawks team has significantly changed, for the better, since that brutal loss.

“Our personnel [have] changed dramatically. We had key players that were injured. They’re back in the lineup now and I think that will make a difference, number one,” he said.

“Number two, we have to be underdogs going into this game. Queen’s [is] 8-0 and I think they’re the class of the league right now.”

“But again, we’ve done a lot of film work on them. We’ve won five out of our last six. In the last three games we’re averaging 50 points a game. We believe that we can be competitive with them. That’s all I can ask the guys to do. Go out there and give our best,” McLeod said.

Laurier will go into this game as an underdog, but this team is on a roll right now and this game should be much closer than the regular season tie that took place between these teams.

“We’re going to have to be pretty much mistake-free. Queen’s like[s] to keep throwing, they push, they push, they push. If we allow them to play their game, we’ll be in trouble. But I think we’ll disrupt them and I think we have a chance. If I didn’t, I don’t think I’d send a team up,” McLeod added.

“We got nothing to lose and we’re going to go out and do Laurier proud, I know that much.”  

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