Best in the country: McMaster women defend national title in rugby sevens

Speed kills in the sevens game, and the Marauder women showed no shortage of it this weekend as they defended their title in style at the Canadian University Sevens Championships in Langford, B.C.

McMaster compiled a 5-1 record over two frantic days of rugby, and capped the event with a 31-5 demolition of the powerhouse Victoria Vikes Blue squad in the women’s cup final on Saturday night. Rebounding from defeat at the hands of the eventual champions in the cup quarterfinals, the Marauder men rode wins over Humber and Waterloo to clinch the consolation plate.

A year after surprising the field to win the title, the Marauder women were dominant at the 2015 event. Their only loss came in a pool match up against the centralized athletes of Canada’s “Maple Leafs” development team.

Fresh from a trip to Las Vegas with the Maple Leafs last month, Marauder rookie Ashley Gordon was sensational in Langford, taking home Most Valuable Player honours after Day 1 and being named as the tournament MVP on Saturday. Gordon was the event’s co-leader with a whopping 45 points from six games — her unique blend of speed and toughness making her a terror in the sevens format.

Fellow rookie Sara Svoboda was rewarded for a balanced performance with inclusion on the tournament’s “Dream Team,” while veteran Laura Morrison — a converted track athlete — flourished in the sevens game and collected seven tries.

The McMaster men’s lone representative on the “Dream Team” was veteran Andrew Ferguson, who led the Marauders with 35 points while serving as their dependable kicker and racking up 10 converts. Chris Gordon was McMaster’s leading try scorer, crossing the line four times over the course of the two-day event.

A 2-1 record in pool play set the Marauder women up for a quarterfinal encounter with the Alberta Pandas on Saturday.

Some suspect first-half defence put McMaster behind 12-7, but the Marauders rebounded well to retake the lead before the break on the strength of a fantastic individual run from Gordon and successful convert by Steph Black.

Punishing defence greeted the whistle to open the second half, but once McMaster found the space to operate, their speed pushed them ahead. Morrison received the ball after a penalty and turned the corner to touch down and give her team the lead, and then played the role of creator to hand an eventual try off to Maddy Seatle as McMaster sealed a 24-12 win.

Morrison, captain Cindy Nelles and Saffara Whiteley-Hoffelner scored tries, while Gordon moved into the kicking role to score two converts, to pace the Marauders to a 19-12 victory over the Lethbridge Pronghorns and set a cup-final encounter with Victoria.

The Vikes’ A team had ground out tight, low-scoring wins over McMaster’s OUA rival, Guelph, and the UBC Thunderbirds while allowing just 19 points through the knockout rounds. But the hometown team proved completely unable to hold the Marauders offensive arsenal at bay in the cup final.

Gordon drew first blood in the opening minutes, faking a pass to her teammate on the edge and splitting a seam in the Victoria defence to score out wide. The challenging convert was no good.

Despite their strong start, the Marauders were dealt a blow midway through the first half as Nelles was unable to continue after an apparent ankle injury.

The team handled the loss of its captain well, however, and Gordon struck once again to extend McMaster’s lead in the seventh minute. Choosing to quickly tap and go after a Victoria penalty deep in their defensive end, Gordon caught the Vikes flat-footed and charged straight through their line to score her second try of the half. Svoboda drained the straightforward convert to give McMaster a 12-0 lead.

Victoria was reeling, and McMaster pounced just a minute later when Morrison deked past a would-be tackler and turned on the jets to score a stunning 45-metre try and extend her team’s lead to 17-0. A Vikes try on the last play of the half put a dampener on the Marauders dominant 10-minute run, but McMaster carried a 12-point advantage into the break nonetheless.

The two teams battled inconclusively in the midfield for the first few minutes of the second half, before McMaster produced a methodical possession to build their fourth try of the night. Sara Svoboda took the final pass and punched it across the end line under the posts, and followed with the convert to re-establish McMaster’s dominance at 24-5.

Veteran Saffara Whiteley-Hoffelner provided the game-capping move for the Marauders with three minutes to play, choosing to tap a penalty and go at midfield and rumbling all the way through the Victoria defensive line with the help of a stiff arm. Svoboda’s convert was good and gave McMaster an insurmountable 26-point lead.

Earlier in the night, McMaster’s men followed a last-gasp comeback win over Humber with a blowout 33-0 victory over the Waterloo Warriors to win the plate — the consolation title. Five different Marauders, Casey Bouk, Ferguson, Gordon, Richard Ormrod and Arthur Welsher had tries, while Ferguson converted four of them to end McMaster’s tournament on a high note.

Below: Marauder captain Cindy Nelles with the head coach of the Canadian U20 women’s team (and former Marauders head coach) Sandro Fiorino. Photo by Lorne Collicutt. 

This article was initially published at dailynews.mcmaster

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