Men’s rugby returns to defend championship title after 37–17 semifinal victory against Gryphons

The UBC Thunderbirds will be returning to defend their Canadian University Men’s Rugby Championship (CUMRC) title on a snowy home turf this Sunday after a well-earned victory against the Guelph Gryphons on Friday evening.

In the semifinal match of the CUMRC, the T-Birds proved once again why hard work and talent are a dangerous combination. They scored three tries in the first half and one in the second. Takoda McMullin converted all of the team’s tries and kicked an additional three penalty tries.

The Thunderbirds and the Gryphons, both giants in their respective provinces, faced off as UBC fans whistled and cheered “Let’s go UBC, let’s go Birds!” It appeared that the T-Birds needed no further encouragement as Relmu Wilson-Vardes scored within the first three minutes of the game.

For a tense moment, the Gryphons pulled ahead with two tries of their own and a convert, but the T-Birds came back to close the distance and remind the team whose ground they were playing on. The T-Birds played the ball close to the end zone, with most tries a result of the team persistently and tightly passing and crashing inches at a time.

With Friday's win, the Thunderbirds are through to the final.
With Friday's win, the Thunderbirds are through to the final. Miriam Celebiler / The Ubyssey

“I was really impressed by our approach to contact today. We’re not the best defensively, and that’s something we need to get consistently better at, but I was really, really happy with their focus today,” said UBC head coach Curry Hitchborn.

“Seventeen points [by the Gryphons] is a lot of points for us, but that speaks to the attacking power of the Gryphons as well. We don’t take it lightly.”

It was clear that consistency was key as the T-Birds came into the second half with a bang and an uber-concentrated and persistent offence and good defence. The T-Birds showed the full range of their strength as Talon McMullin and Izzak Kelly pushed, lifted and tackled their way to a 20-point lead.

“Our physicality,” said centre Takoda McMullin when asked about what he thought his team did well. “We dominated them.”

Takoda McMullin scored an incredible 17 points through conversions and was aptly named Player of the Game.

The T-Birds did not ever seem to tire and kept hitting back with a force that racked up three penalty tries in the second half. Even with minutes to go, UBC did not take their lead for granted and kept the other team on their toes.

With only one other try by the Gryphons, UBC dominated the evening by working together and pulling for each other.

“It’s unreal,” said Takoda McMullin. “I know my team has my back so I have theirs. It’s unreal.”

The T-Birds return to Thunderbird Stadium at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday to play McGill University in the CUMRC final.