On Friday night, the Concordia Stingers proved they are the best in Quebec by winning the finals against archrival Laval. The victory caps off their perfect season and is the first phase to getting to their ultimate goal: nationals.
From the opening whistle it was clear that this victory would be hard-fought. Concordia’s strength is in their forwards — it has been all season — and Laval’s gritty pack was matching them tackle for tackle. In fact, the Rouge et Or started running their forwards into Concordia’s back line, forcing the smaller backs to make the tackle.
This tactic pushed the Stingers back and forced them to play defence early on. On a try-line ruck, Laval’s eight-man picked the ball and dove in for what looked like a sure try. The referee called her for a diving infraction and the score remained 0-0.
The Stingers, rallied by the near miss, marched their way back upfield.
Scrum half Jessie Lapointe quarterbacked the offence and Stinger winger Jenna Giuliani had an impressive run as the forwards finally shared the ball with the backs. A Laval error gave the Stingers the chance to open the scoring. Unfortunately, Jackie Tittley’s penalty kick sailed wide of the uprights and the game remained scoreless.
For the next 15 minutes, the Rouge et Or would barrage the Stingers defence deep in Concordia territory. Hughanna Gaw’s textbook tackling brought down four Rouge et Or in a row and the entire pack sacrificed their bodies to prevent Laval from touching the ball down.
It wasn’t until Tittley broke away, dodged three defenders, kicked and caught her own ball and made it into Laval territory that the Stingers could breathe a sigh of relief.
Although the Stingers had time to calm down and focus at the half, they started the second frame with a slew of penalties. They handed over enough yards to allow Laval to have their own chance at a penalty kick. But Charlotte Vallieres-Villeneuve’s kick from 32 yards out went wide and the Stingers were still alive. Only minutes later, Laval’s Claudine Renaud outran Concordia on the sidelines for the try. This opened the scoring a whopping 50 minutes into the game.
“That try really woke us up,” said head coach Graeme McGravie. “We really realized that we needed to pull together and get it done.”
Only four minutes later, Concordia equalized when the entire forward pack pushed over the line. Flanker Gaw was credited with the try.
It was the Rouge et Or’s turn to become undisciplined, with emotions running high. Laval took a penalty right in front of the uprights that gave Tittley an easy penalty kick, allowing Concordia to take the lead 8-5.
Not to be outdone, Laval mirrored the Stingers and had their own three-point penalty kick to tie it up.
Concordia’s second try was a thing of beauty. Off a line-out, the forwards started their usual play of trying to maul the ball into the try zone. When the Laval pack halted their progress, all but the far winger and fullback jumped into the play and helped the forwards push into the try zone. This 13-player maul allowed Cara Stuckey score the winning try to make it 13-8. “I think the backs at this point are used to the fact that we’re not giving them the ball on the line and so they are thinking ‘well if we’re not going to get the ball I’d better go in a help make it happen,'” said captain Claire Hortop.
The story wasn’t over there, however, because with only eight minutes left, the Stingers had to defend their lead. Giuliani made a try-saving tackle by reaching out and getting the jersey with her fingertips. Concordia’s defence was impenetrable exactly when it needed to be.
When the final whistle blew, both squads erupted into tears. For Concordia, they had beaten their archrival in almost a deja vu of last year, and the Rouge et Or had lost in the final for the second year in a row.
“This was part of our game. Our game plan is to get to Nationals and do well there. This is just one step along the road,” said Gaw.
Concordia’s Tittley, Hortop, Gaw, Sarah Nesbitt and Patricia Lapierre were named to the league’s all-star team. In addition, Tittley, the league’s leading scorer, was awarded with the title of most outstanding player. Head coach Graeme McGravie took top honors with coach of the year.
For Hortop, beating the Laval Rouge et Or in the finals is only the beginning. Now she is headed to Nationals where the real test starts; she is determined to lead her team to a medal finish among the best teams in the country.
Slated to graduate this year, this is Hortop’s last chance to lead her team to national glory before she hangs up her Concordia maroon and gold for good at the end of this season.
This year’s championships will take place at Trent University in Peterborough, Ont from Nov. 4-7.
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