After an entire season spent on the road, the Pandas rugby squad returned home Friday afternoon to host the Canada West playoffs and ended up soundly defeating their opponents.
The University of Alberta hosted the UBC Thunderbirds in the playoffs’ opening semi-final match that ended with a 62-12 win for the Pandas. With the victory, the U of A has clinched a spot in Sunday’s finals for the CanWest championship versus provincial rivals the University of Calgary Dinos.
“It’s nice to get a little crowd and obviously, hopefully, Sunday we’ll get a few more,” said Pandas head coach, Matt Parrish, on his team’s first game in Edmonton this season. “But even playing in this (Ellerslie Rugby Park), the familiarity for the players is nice.”
The Pandas, who had beaten UBC 58-3 earlier in the month in Vancouver, rode to a 50 point win over the T-Birds off of tries by eight different players including three from first year centre Paige Farries. The U of A had little difficulty in controlling the pace, tempo and direction of the game.
“I mean it’s always a tough game, this Friday game, especially when there’s an expectation having beaten these guys before fairly handily, psychologically, to get the players up,” said Parrish of his team’s demolition of the T-Birds. “I thought the players did a great job. I mean, the scoreboard was excellent.”
The University of Calgary Dinos, who lost to the Pandas 46-24 when the two teams hooked up in Calgary last week, were triumphant in the other semi-final game. The Dinos skimmed the defending CanWest champion University of Lethbridge Pronghorns 33-32 in the second half of the double header.
The Dinos’ only loss of the season was at the hands of the Pandas, but they’ll attempt to steal the conference crown from the Pandas when the two Alberta rivals square off in the gold medal game Sunday afternoon at 1 PM at Ellerslie Rugby Park in the south end of the city.
But the fact that the Pandas beat the Dinos in regular season play gives the Pandas’ players a lot of confidence, said Parrish.
“I think that the big part is the confidence part. It’s just the psychological part of rugby, beating both teams and knowing they can do that,” Parrish said. “Now it’s really just a case of whoever we get, just performing on the day. And I suppose my job over the next 24 hours or so is to make sure we’re sort of mentally there but I think that’s the big word confidence.”
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