Gaels nose their way to rugby championship

Something long and white stuck out of Matt Bendia’s nostril as cameras snapped pictures of him lifting the 2013 championship trophy of Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association senior boys’ rugby.

The packing in his beak was there to stop the bleeding from a blow received near the end of the title game against the Bishop Tonnos Titans at Mohawk Sports Park on Wednesday (May 22).

Bendia was a key performer in the tight contest, scoring a try for Cathedral as the Gaels won 10-5 to repeat as league champions.

Bishop Tonnos played physical, but took too many penalties against the undefeated Gaels. (Photo: Kevin Prosser)

“I was just cutting across and somebody caught my nose with his hand,” Bendia said of his battle reminder. “Things happen. We call this a nose tampon.”

With the victory, Cathedral capped an undefeated season (6-0) and advance to represent the HWCAA in Halton at the Golden Horseshoe Athletic Conference championship on Wednesday, May 29. That winner qualifies for the Ontario Triple and Quad A high school championships June 5-7 in Ottawa.

“We knew this would be a close game,” said Bendia, who has been recruited to play for the McMaster University Marauders next season. “They played us very physical the first time.”

Tonnos opened the scoring on a try by Nicholas Lazzarato.

“I thought we had it, actually,” Lazzarato said. “We started taking too many penalties (in the second half) which you can’t do. We ran out of oxygen pretty quick. They are a better conditioned team, I’ll give them that. We kept it close, though.”

The winning try was provided by Gaels scrum half Aidan McGrath in the second half.

Cathedral’s Aidan McGrath scores the game winning try. (Photo: Andrew McGrath)

“It just proves we have a good system and great athletes,” said McGrath, a three-year veteran of the sport at Cathedral. “Our coaching is outstanding. They are a big strong team, but I think we just outsmarted them.”

The head coaches of the respective teams – Paul Hahn of Cathedral and Peter Van Zyl of Bishop Tonnos – are both natives of South Africa and represent the Hamilton Hornets club program.

“That was one of the best advertisements for high school rugby that I’ve seen,” said Van Zyl, who has been working with school age rugby players for eight years.

According to Van Zyl, most of the Tonnos players are new to the sport while the Gaels program has been in existence for much longer, having competed against other school boards since 2002. This was only the fourth year for Tonnos, which went 4-2 this season.

Said Van Zyl: “We surprised everybody. We had never won a game until this year. As soon as we got tired, the mistakes started happening.”

Hahn said Cathedral had the edge because it started training earlier this season – in early February, compared to just six weeks ago for Tonnos.

“The tries that we scored were grinding tries,” Hahn said. “We just crashed it up. I’m very impressed with the way Tonnos played. They are really tenacious.”

Other members of the champion Gaels are Joe Hagan, Ivan Argueta, Liam Barry, Jordan Lee Marcellin, Isaac Novo, Raheem Kingrath, Batista Briatico, Tyler Boucher, Nathan Calderon, Brandon Correia, Oneil Stubbs, Michael DaSilva, James Donovan, Chad Fennell, Tristan George, Zach Ridgewell, Mynor Hernandez, Gaia Massyles, Vance Mollison, Brendan Nagy, Aaron Pataracchia, Beau Prosser, Miguel Santos, Stephan Smith, Adam Taylor and Joeny Tran. The Cathedral program director is Duane Davis. The assistant coaches are Mike and Paul Dziuba.