New-look Men’s Rugby team sees their season come to an end after 28-19 loss against Brock
First-year head coach, Jeff Wood and the Golden Hawks men’s rugby team came up just short of a post-season spot after losing a close battle – 28-19 – last Friday against the Brock Badgers.
“The game matched up to be a pretty epic contest and could have gone either way,” interim Coach Wood said about the defeat. “Being the Laurier Coach, I thought we played better then they did but I give credit to Brock, who was able to play a hell of a game.”
After a 2-0 start to the season, Laurier lost their third matchup to the Guelph Gryphons – an OUA rugby powerhouse – setting the stage for a win-or-go home contest against Brock. The OUA announced a change playoff format this year with only the top two teams in each division qualifying for the post-season. After a close battle with the Badgers resulted in a loss, Laurier’s season came to an close with a 2-2 record, just missing out on the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
Despite the season coming to an end earlier then he would of like it too, Coach Wood was extremely grateful to have OUA competition return after the cancellation across all university sports last season.
“It was an exciting time to actually get even one practice under our belt at the start of our season. For us to have a season during a pandemic was pretty cool,” Coach Wood said.
“It was good to see the players back doing something that they like to do, being able to get back out there and train with their [teammates],” he continued.
After top five finishes in each of the past three years, including an OUA bronze medal in 2018, Laurier’s men’s rugby program undertook a transition this year with long-time head coach, Ian McLeod departing the team to return to the Western Mustangs rugby program. McLeod who led the team for seven years and was instrumental in changing the culture of the program returned to the Mustangs this summer to coach the team that he played for as an athlete back in the 1980’s.
The replacement was a simple one as Coach Wood was promoted to interim head coach right away and as he said, the team “didn’t skip a beat.” Wood is no stranger to the game, having coached rugby for the better part of two decades and working alongside McLeod as an associate coach for all seven of his years with the purple and gold.
At club level, Wood works for the Stratford Blackswans, who he co-founded back in 1991 and has been a part of OUA competition with Laurier and Western for more then a decade.
“The transition was more off-field than it was on-field for me,” Coach Wood said, speaking about the increased responsibilities he took on, dealing with the team, department and administrative issues.
“It was a learning curve for me, dealing with administration, players and all of that kind of stuff,” he said.
Wood was excited to begin his role as the new leader of the men’s rugby program and continued to install his core values of “heart, passion and commitment” onto the team. The three keys to success as Coach Wood views it.
The rugby program has been on an “upward trend” in the past seven years much to the credit of McLeod and Wood and while this season may be viewed as a set-back, there is plenty of reasons to remain optimistic.
Following the cancellation, Laurier had a mix of veterans and new student-athletes competing on the pitch for them this year. Adam McNee was one of the younger players who made an impact for the team, finishing fourth in the OUA in total points after the season.
“We had some rookies starting and most of our fourth and fifth-years in the lineup as well,” Coach Wood said about the balance.
“I’m a firm believer in playing who is best… This year it worked out where we were able to play our seniors and I’m happy that it happened that way.”
Laurier began their season with a 19-11 victory over McLeod’s Mustangs and a 52-14 win against Waterloo, two games in which Coach Wood was confident they were going to be able to win. Against the undefeated Gryphons, Laurier lost 45-14, before losing to Brock and finishing one game shy of a playoff spot.
After a disappointing end to this season, Coach Wood and his program are already focused on becoming better for the following year.
“We got some outstanding rookies, some high-level Canadian players that weren’t able to get on the game sheet this year,” Coach Wood said, crediting the talent on his roster and the ability that many of the young players have, some of which who haven’t even got the chance to play yet.
Wood is focused on strength and conditioning this off-season, hoping that his team is able to bulk up and increase their power. “We will have to create some bigger bodies over the winter… If I go back to that Brock game, they had quite a few fifth years and were a lot bigger then us physically on the pitch,” Coach Wood said.
The program hopes to compete in a seven’s tournament later this spring and will work hard during the off-season under Wood’s leadership. With his leadership and a talented roster for the future, the rugby program has a lot to be optimistic about, despite the tough finish this year.