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The Gee-Gees spent most of the game battling for yardage in Calgary’s zone. Photo: Parker Townes/Fulcrum

The Gee-Gees move on to the final four, will take on Queen’s next

The University of Ottawa women’s rugby team played their first game on home turf in the USports National Rugby Championships on Wednesday evening.

The Gee-Gees faced the Canada West finalists, the University of Calgary Dinos. Having won the RSEQ championship on Friday against Laval, the Gee-Gees were playing on short rest against a well-rested Dinos team, who’s last game against the University of British Columbia took place nearly two weeks ago.

First half sees Gee-Gees take a 5-0 lead

The Gee-Gees didn’t look tired coming out swinging against the Dinos, with Madison Grant breaking away twice in the first two minutes but just failing to reach the Calgary endzone.

The Gee-Gees dominated early, trapping the Dinos in their own zone for long stretches, but Ottawa had to work hard for every yard. The players slipped and fell often on the wet artificial turf in the pouring rain.

But after more than five minutes of struggling to push the huddle to pass the Calgary five-metre line, Maya Montiel managed to push through the Calgary defence and scored the first try of the game to give Ottawa a 5-0 lead 15 minutes in. Claire Gallagher tried to convert for the extra two points, but due to a poorly angled kick and the atrociously wet playing conditions, she failed to do so.

Calgary started playing better after the Gee-Gees’ try, trapping Ottawa in their zone for a good five-minute period until the Gees managed to kick the ball and recover it at midfield on a nice play by Alexandra Ondo. 

The Gee-Gees fourth-year player managed to transport the ball into Calgary territory where the rest of the half was played, with the Gee-Gees having to work very hard again for every single meter against a big and strong Calgary defence.

Ottawa did have a very good chance to score, confusing the Calgary defence with a couple of lateral passes. However, the ball slipped out of Ondo’s hands as she passed it to her teammate and as a result, Calgary was able to briefly recover the ball. 

With less than three minutes left, the Gee-Gees were able to break through the Calgary defence once more on a lateral play. Emma Wade scored but the try was called back after the referees determined the Gee-Gees pass to Wade was a forward pass, an illegal play in rugby.   

Despite a strong half, the Gee-Gees only managed to score one try on Calgary’s strong defence, something that seemed to visibly frustrate Gee-Gees head coach Jen Boyd, who nearly sprinted off the field at the half.

“At (the) half we recognized we only had a couple of mistakes we had to fix up,” said Alexandra Ondo after the game when asked what the message was in the locker room. “Other than that, we felt we were dominating overall but it was just about fixing those mistakes and capitalizing being in their zone and score,”

Second half sees Gee-Gees come out on top

The Gee-Gees came out of the dressing room flying, immediately pushing Calgary back into their zone thanks to a good clearing kick by Grant.

 After failing again to push through the Calgary defence, the Gee-Gees elected to go for points after passing the 22-meter line. Gallagher, a lefty kicker, had her first and arguably only easy angle kick of the night giving her team an 8-0 lead with less than five minutes played in the second half.

After the try, both teams fought hard back and forth at midfield to take control of the ball until the Dinos flanked the Gees and trapped Ottawa in their zone. Calgary’s Cassidy Jones pushed then through to score the Dinos’ first try and cut the Gee-Gees lead to 8-5 with 24 minutes left.

Catherine Ohler kicked for the extra two points moments later to make it a one-point game, 8-7 Gee-Gees.

Ottawa went right back to work, pushing the Dinos back into their territory. After a couple of minutes struggling to gain any metres close to the Calgary endzone, Ondo managed to break away from coverage on a nice pass from Grant to give Ottawa a 13-7 lead with less than 20 minutes to go. Gallagher, in bad angle again, failed for the second time in the game to kick for the extra point.

Ten minutes later disaster struck the Dinos, as Gee-Gees sophomore Tyler Donato surprised the Calgary defence, broke away from midfield, and ran about 40 metres to the Calgary endzone. 

“It was a little scary, I knew I had to keep running, she was very fast (the player tailing her), she had a nice tackle on me in the endzone,” said Donato after the game. “I closed my eyes, kept running, and was glad I made it there.”  

“I always say your great players will play their greatest in the biggest games and that’s Taylor Donato,”   said head coach Jen Boyd after the game. “She really was the best player tonight … and was very happy she got recognized after the game.”   

Gallagher had another though kick and missed the target for the third time on this cold slippery evening. With less than 15 minutes left in the second half, the women in Grey and Garnet led 18-7.

“She had really brutal angles, it’s really hard to kick from that far, it like a 40-metre kick, but we always trust her boot she was great tonight,” said Boyd following the game, in a clear show of confidence to Gallagher.

After the Gee-Gees third try, both teams battled it out once again at midfield. It was clear there was a certain sense of urgency for the Albertans, who controlled the ball for a long time but were unable to gain many metres against the Ottawa defence.

The Gee-Gees finally recovered the ball with less than three minutes left in the game and tried to make some gains, but cleared a minute later after being unsuccessful.

The Dinos recovered and tried their best to push through Ottawa’s defence to come back in the game, but it was too little too late as the U of O women’s rugby team came out on top to take the game 18-7 and move on to the final four. 

After the game, it was a happy Boyd who greeted the Fulcrum on the field to talk about her team’s performance.

“Real proud, our defence was really good, our kicking was very good and our set-piece was great,” said Boyd. “That’s how you win in November. Proud to be moving on, no injuries (and I’m) very proud of the girls. They’re a young group and they showed grit.”    

What’s next?

With the win, the Gee-Gee’s will take on the OUA champion Queen’s Golden Gaels in the semifinals. The Gaels defeated the University of Acadia Axemen 55-12 in their quarterfinal matchup on Wednesday morning. 

The game will take place on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. at Matt Anthony Field. Both teams met earlier this month for an exhibition bought, which Queens won 79-0. The Gee-Gees were not playing their regulars, with a game against arch-rival Laval the next day.

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