The McGill men’s rugby team had the best-ever finish for a Quebec university as they won silver at the Canadian University Men’s Rugby Championship in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Currently in their 150th season, the Redbirds entered the eight-team tournament as the No.5 seed after winning the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) championship against over the University of Ottawa in the league final before a raucous crowd of 1,830 at Percival Molson Stadium.
McGill opened the tournament with a nail-biting 23-24 win over the fourth-seeded Laurier Golden Hawks from Waterloo, Ont. This was followed by a hard-fought 17-11 win over eighth-seeded Trinity Western, from Langley, B.C.
In the gold medal game, McGill fought hard against the hometown UBC Thunderbirds, but ultimately lost 48-5.
Along with their well-deserved silver medals, the Redbirds also received the Jeff Chan Spirit of Rugby Team Award for demonstration of the spirit, values, and culture of the game of rugby, including respect for their opponents and the officials, competitiveness, and good sportsmanship over the course of the tournament.
The incredible finish capped an impressive campaign for head coach Ian Baillie and his McGill squad, which finished with a 10-2 record overall, including a 6-1 finish atop the eight-team Quebec-based league.
“We needed a real team effort from everybody and that’s what we got,” said Baillie, in his 10th year as bench boss. “We got pushed around a little bit by the bigger boys, but our defending was ferocious and so was our relentless work (ethic), which is our identity. We knew it would be a physical (tournament) and we rose to the challenge.”
There were many individual plaudits for the Redbirds, although rugby is essentially a team game – one that features a starting 15 with 10 substitutes on bench and another 20 players waiting in the wings.
Three members of the Redbirds were named to the All-Tournament first-team all-stars, including captain Monty Weatherall , an international development studies senior from Amersham, in England, junior Brad Hunger, also an IDS major, from Beaconsfield, Que., and Alexander Armstrong, an economics junior from Hadlow, England, who was injured in the final game and accepted his honour on crutches.
Owen Cumming, a fifth-year senior in political science and Canadian Studies from Toronto, was one of eight players at the championship to receive a Lt. Colonel W.D.C. Holmes Award, which includes a $500 bursary, from the Canadian Rugby Foundation.
Just prior to Nationals, Alexandre Laurendeau was voted by the coaches as RSEQ rugby rookie of the year and among seven all-stars from McGill. Laurendeau was named to the first-team, along with Monty Weatherall, Owen Cumming and Gaspard Poiré. Members of the Redbirds to make the RSEQ second squad were Alex Pantis, Martin Laval and Brad Hunger.