Gaels, Titans to decide rugby title

The 2013 championship game of Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association boys’ rugby will have a distinct South African flavour.

That’s because the head coaches of the two participating high school teams – Cathedral Gaels and Bishop Tonnos Titans – are both natives of South Africa. And they’ve still got the accent to prove it.

Coach Paul Hahn guided his undefeated Gaels to a 27-0 victory over the Cardinal Newman Cardinals during the first half of a playoff doubleheader at Mohawk Sports Park on Friday (May 17). In the other semi-final, Peter Van Zyl’s Titans hung on for a hard-fought 17-15 win over the St. Mary Crusaders.

Bishop Tonnos catch St. Mary for a 17-15 win in the HWCAA boys’ rugby semi-final. (Photo: Gerry Graham)

The league final will be Wednesday (May 22), 2:30 p.m. at Mohawk Sports Park.

“I’m one of the coaches of the senior men’s program with the Hamilton Hornets,” Hahn said. “I was approached by our junior director of rugby at the club and asked if I could assist in coaching Cathedral this year.

“I’m very happy I did. They’ve got a good talent base. It’s been nothing but a privilege to work with them.”

Hahn has been involved in rugby for more than 35 years and occasionally still plays the sport. He’s been a coach for the past five years, helping the Hornets to a Niagara Region title last season.

“I’d like to think we’ve done some really good things with the club,” he said. “But it’s also kind of nice to work with a group of (high school) kids who buy into what you ask them to do. We try to play good clean rugby, hard and fast.”

South Africa, of course, is one of the strongest nations in the world when it comes to rugby.

Cardinal Newman watches as the Cathedral Gaels trounce en route to a 27-0 victory (Photo: Gerry Graham)

Cathedral, which rolled to its fifth straight victory, got two tries by Matthew Bendia while Joe Hagan, Aiden McGrath and Oneil Stubbs added one try apiece. McGrath also chipped in with a conversion for the Gaels, who have outscored their opponents 156-22 this season.

Said Hahn: “We have a defensive system in place. It’s a brand new concept to them, just introduced this year. But they adhere to the system quite well. We’ve had very few points scored on us.”

Cathedral captured the HWCAA title last season. And, as hosts, they also took part in the Ontario high school Quad A championship tournament.

“This year we’re much more rugby smart,” said Gaels veteran fly half, Joeny Tran. “We’re really quick. We don’t quit until the whistle blows and we have good communication.

“Our practices are really good. Coach Hahn pushes us to our limit to get our full potential.”

In the semi-final between second-place Bishop Tonnos (3-1) and St. Mary (2-2), the Titans got tries by Jaycey Lewczuk, Jake Reddick and James Stevens. The Titans withstood a late offensive push by the Crusaders.

“It’s the fourth year we’ve been running the program and this is our first playoff win ever,” said Van Zyl, the Hornets club captain. “It’s big … history setting.

“The boys were under a lot of pressure and they hung on. Pure heart. Guts. Character.”

Stevens successfully booted a conversion, which turned out to be the difference in the game.

“I’ve been practising lately,” Stevens said of his kicking. “We had to kick it to win because we were tied for tries. I got lucky with the last kick and put it through the uprights.

“It feels amazing. We’ve been working hard and it’s paying off. We’re going to the championship.”

Cardinal Newman was coming off a 31-29 quarter-final playoff victory over St. Jean de Brebeuf Braves, while St. Mary, Tonnos and Cathedral received opening-round playoff byes. Against the Gaels, however, they called up a few recruits to bolster a banged up lineup.

“I think we did a good job,” Newman coach Jodi Pomerleau said. “We just couldn’t punch it though to the end zone. Cathedral has been doing this for a number of years (playing since 2002 in various leagues). So they have a little more experience. We don’t have a history. The majority of our guys are in Grade 11. Next year will be our year to compete to take it all.”