The Gonzaga College High School Rugby team recently completed a very successful tour of Italy, finishing with a 2-1 record.
It was an early morning on Sunday, March 16 as they kicked off the competitive portion of the Tour de Italia with a match against U18 Elite League #1 ranked Capitolina Rugby Union. The Eagles took to the pitch against an undefeated U18 side which was determined not to allow their guests to triumph on their Field of the Via Flaminia.
Both sides came out determined in a very physical contest and it was the Eagles who drew first blood when junior wing Reggie Corbin took a long pass from senior Center Matt Nalls after a feed by senior Fly Half Ben Cima and got the edge for a spectacular 70 meter jaunt for a try! Cima made the conversion and the Americans were up 7-0 before many had settled into their seats! The hard hitting continued and Cima was able to convert a penalty kick for a 10-0 margin which held up through the first half of play.
There were undoubtedly some strong words from the coaches of the hosts to their players at the half and the Italian 15 came out determined to turn the tide in the second. Gonzaga once again drew first blood, however, as Cima’s golden foot produced another penalty kick and a 13-0 lead. The Italians began trying some different line attacks and short kicks which resulted in their first score of the afternoon which cut the Gonzaga lead to 13-5 as their conversion was no good. It seemed like every time Gonzaga would get some momentum, a whistle would stunt it and Capitolina continued to press, scoring another try and conversion to get within 1 at 13-12. Gonzaga’s defense was excellent throughout the match but they simply did not get enough ball in the second half and they were ultimately worn down by the opponent and penalties, giving up another try with no conversion to go down 17-13 and finally giving up a try and conversion for the final 24-13 margin.
Neither side knew exactly what to expect going in but what they got was some excellent, international level rugby of which both sides could be extremely proud. Both teams got together for pictures and some fellowship after the match. The obvious respect that our players engendered, not only for their excellent play but for keeping their heads under difficult conditions, is obvious in the report of our opponents on the match which, very poorly translated, was as follows:
Last Sunday, the field of the Via Flaminia came to life, rugby speaking, at 8.30 in the morning with about 400 under-12s involved in the tournament Montalto and, following each other on the grassy stage, worthy of the best traditions of British (thanks Cosmo), the teams of the second XV , the Under 16 and the Under 18 all stars of this memorable day at the Oval Capitolina. The epilogue of the intense daily schedule could not have been better, with our boys under 18 big effort, thanks to the prowess and consistency of American friends, giving life to a match in which rhythm, volume and intensity of the game in the contact situations were the masters. These are the ingredients for an enjoyable and entertaining game in which the physical superiority of the Capitoline opponents responded with very effective game sequences from both a technical and tactical point of view. The regret at the end of the contest is that this during the season there will be very few opportunities to play matches like that. Francis, thank you for giving us the opportunity to umpire and in doing so impeccably. I conclude by making compliments to Paulo and all the staff at Gonzaga High School for the quality of the performance of their athletes.
On Wednesday, March 19 as they were scheduled for their second set of matches and once again started slowly, finding themselves down 17-0 in the first half to U-18 Elite Division #4 L’Aquila before a try by junior 8 Man D’Andre Easterling converted by Ben Cima closed the gap to 17-7 at the half. Hoping to change things in the second half, it first appeared that it wasn’t in the cards as L’Aquila scored early to increase its lead to 22-7. Junior Prop Jack Carroll then scored the first of this 2 try’s bringing the count to 22-14. L’Aquila wasn’t done, however, and scored again to go up 29-14 with about 10 minutes left in the game. Enter the Big Giant Purple Heart. Carroll scored again, steamrolling over tacklers determined to find the try zone, which now made the score 29-21. With only about 3 minutes left, senior hooker Tommy Rippert stole the ball on the L’Aquila scrum put-in and 8-man Easterling then broke out of the scrum with a nice short side run before offloading to senior Fly Half Ben Cima who passed the ball to junior inside center Nick Skalka who quickly moved the ball to senior Outside Center Matt Nalls, who broke the line and then offloaded to Wing Cam Bohlander who broke 2 tackles and scored to make the score 29-26. On the ensuing kickoff, Cima received the ball and made a short line break to set up a quick ruck from which senior scrum half Jimmy Ronan passed the ball quickly to Carroll who continued to move the ball quickly to sophomore Prop Dante Lopresti who also moved the ball quickly through his hands to Senior Fullback Stephen Beckerle who then put junior Wing Reggie Corbin away on a 40 yard game winning try converted by Cima for final score of 33-29 in a thriller.
The Tour concluded in the City of Prato of the beautiful Tuscany region of Central Italy. On Friday, March 21 Gonzaga faced the Elite U18s for Gispi Rugby Prato, a member of the Icavalieri Rugby Club. The pressure was clearly on the Purple side to start strongly, and they responded in a big way with a 42-14 clinic. Gispi Elite scored first to take a 7-0 lead but Gonzaga came back with Junior Inside Center Nick Skalka scoring a try that was converted by senior Fly Half Ben Cima for a 7-0 lead. Senior Flanker Charlie Depont then rambled for 70 (not a typo!) meters for an incredible try (oxygen mask, please!) and Cima was again true for a 14-7 lead. Junior wing Reggie Corbin scored a 50 meter try that was again converted by Cima to go up 21-7. Finishing off an incredible week, Corbin found the try zone again to make the score 28-7 after Cima’s kick split the uprights. Tired of seeing his fellow wing mate have all the fun, senior Wing Michael Barry then got into the act with a try converted by Cima and then for good measure scored another try that was converted by senior Scrum Half Jimmy Ronan for the final 42-14 margin and a 2-1 record for the Tour.
In all, it was an incredibly successful effort and tour. In the words of Gonzaga Director of Rugby Coach Kelly:
“Thank you Italy we love your country, your people and your rugby. Our players, parents and coaches have had an incredible experience and so we say goodbye but not for long for we will see you again”.