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Notre Dame College Takes NCR D1 Title in Impressive Fashion

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Notre Dame College Takes NCR D1 Title in Impressive Fashion

Notre Dame College as a team. Alex Goff photo.

In a game that had pretty much everything, Notre Dame College put a stamp on an excellent fall with an emphatic 33-10 defeat of St. Bonaventure to win the National Collegiate Rugby D1 championship. 

This win was also the culmination of a journey for a program that went 1-7 in the fall of 2021. Several players confirmed that while experience together had a hand in the turnaround, their unity and their shift in team culture was massive factors in the team’s growth.

At Least They Played The Game

As for the game, there was real doubt that the game would be played. A long lightning delay midway through the previous match, a bowl game between Sam Houston State and Alabama, put the schedule under some pressure. Aveva Stadium is not permitted to have games kick off after 8:30PM local time. 

The NCR leadership did want to complete the SHSU-vs-‘Bama bowl game but that game might have been suspended or abandoned. As it was, the second half was played and there was just barely time for a timely kickoff for the D1 final.

That game kicked off promptly at 8:29 and 203 seconds in a driving wind and some rain.

A Windy Start

Playing with the wind, NDC did well to play in St. Bonaventure’s end. The game moved fairly slowly as these two familiar rivals smashed into each other. Notre Dame College used the box kicking of scrumhalf Rémy Thomson and a smart kick-chase to try to put Bonnies under pressure, but SBU fullback Matheo Lorenzato was very good under the ball and his wings, Noah Edwards and Will Hogan were solid, too.

Eventually NDC did get a penalty in the Bonnies half and fullback Lachie McDonald, who was out injured the last time these two teams played, slotted the kick for a 3-0 lead.

Stuck playing into the wind, Bonnies really could only run out of trouble. Kicks were knocked back by the wind and lineouts were a crapshoot for both teams.

McDonald added another penalty goal for the Falcons, and the ensuing restart from Bonnies was blown back toward halfway, leading to a scrum for NDC, another penalty, but a miss this time.

Finally St. Bonaventure found some space. They had been working the edges but in fact it was a break up the middle by center Eddie Nelson that got them through and some good support work saw the ball spun wide for Will Hogan to take into the corner.

It was a bit of a shock for NDC, as they were playing with the wind, supposedly an advantage, and yet it was now only 6-5.

There then followed a sequence that in retrospect spelled good fortune for the remainder of the evening for NDC.

A massive break from Edwards put St. Bonaventure into the NDC 22 with a real chance at a breakaway try. But almost out of nowhere Notre Dame College’s Ashawnty Staples came in from the opposition wing to lay in a huge tackle on flyhalf Wilson Koina. The tackle slammed Koina to the deck and jarred the ball loose. Thomson picked it up and broke through the other way. It was mayhem. But NDC kept the ball alive and after a big carry from flanker Rashad Jones-Land, the Falcons sent it wide where Staples, back in his proper position, burst down the sideline before passing inside to Asher Hannon for the try.

It was a spectacular try and a key momentum shift. NDC had regained the upper hand and now led 11-5. All of this, mind you, with the rain bucketing down—as the saying goes, it was raining like a cow pissing on a flat rock.

Notre Dame College pressed their advantage with a kick ahead by wing Killian Burns that almost resulted in a second try for Hannon. No try, but a penalty by St. Bonaventure for playing the ball on the ground. NDC tapped and ran it, but were held up. Bonnies wasn’t out of it yet, though, as they took the ensuing goalline dropout incorrectly (punting it instead of a drop-kick). So scrum for Notre Dame College, and NDC does scrum well. Off that drive they worked it a couple of times before flanker Cameron Mills picked up and crashed over. 

Up 16-5 Notre Dame College looked to press their advantage, hoping to punish a silly frustration penalty by Bonnies. But St. Bonaventure held, and in fact got a penalty that turned into a yellow card for Jones-Land.

The half ended, then, with St. Bonaventure probably unhappy to be behind, but understanding that they would have the wind in the second half. Notre Dame College, for their part, know they had left some points unclaimed and had to be wondering if they’d done enough.

Second Half

The rain, and the wind, let up for the second half. St. Bonaventure would have an advantage with the breeze, but it would be negligible. Set piece remained a question. NDC wanted to dominate the scrum, and looked the stronger, but how much stronger? The lineouts has been tough in the wind, but it could be a strength for St. Bonaventure.

The second half began once more with St. Bonaventure testing the edges. But Staples remains a massive part of the NDC effort in stopping Bonnies. Perhaps frustrated, Bonnies attempted a grubber through the NDC line, only for it to be blocked by flyhalf Clemente Aquirre and recovered by Hannon. St. Bonaventure kept coming back, however, and a brilliant kick rolling toward the tryline was touched down by McDonald. Bonnies had more chances, but the NDC defense, even shorthanded, was outstanding. They finally got a penalty thanks to Mills and cleared their lines. For St. Bonaventure, the failure to score in the first part of the second half hurt.


Having been in their 22 for most of the second half, Notre Dame College had weathered the storm and they started to trade kicks with St. Bonaventure and get out of trouble. A high ball from McDonald was recovered by the NDC chasers. A big carry from lock Fraser Leslie brought them into the SBU 22 and then McDonald sold a dummy and cut in through the middle. He needed help, however. Here’s where reserve loose forward Tadiwa Kainga made a key play. Out wide on the right, Kainga decided to cut across to be on McDonald’s left.

“I knew he was bringing all the players to the right side; the space was coming through the middle and I knew I was going to have an open try through the middle so I had to make myself available,” Kainga said after the game. “Of course at the time this was all instinct; I didn’t think about it.”

Around Kainga came and McDonald offloaded perfectly.

“Lachie’s an amazing player,” said Kainga. “And he waited for the perfect, right time, to pass.”

Kainga was, is he expect to be, free and clear under the posts. McDonald converted, and after being under threat of a try for so long, Notre Dame College had scored the next try, and now led 23-5.

Was it over? Of course not, but the band was warming up.

Back came St. Bonaventure with some hard running inside from the likes of No. 8 Niku Otineru and tighthead James Aitken. They got a penalty and took the lineout and worked their way to the line. Patrick Clink, a freshman on as a reserve prop, picked up, stayed low, and scored St. Bonaventure’s second try.

Momentum Again

Now within two tries St. Bonaventure had a chance to turn the game around. But on the restart no one claimed the ball and it bounced, instead, kindly for NDC’s Christian Dickens. He kept running and the forwards came in to support with their short yardage system. Soon Christian Gatica scored and NDC had wrested the momentum back, and likely the game.

The end of the game was largely played in St. Bonaventure’s end, and as time wound down some excellent running from Staples and Thomson got them close, and the scrum started to exert even more pressure.

Once again close-in the forwards went to work and George Brown went over. It was the fourth try of the second half scored by reserves, one for Bonnies and three for NDC.

“We’re thinking impact, impact. Come on, up the tempo. The other team is really tired. Do your job, and make every play, make every pass, but you have to make it a lot more intense,” said Kainga.

McDonald’s conversion made it 35-10, and that was the final play of the game. Notre Dame College had kept the faith. Their scrum has strong. Their dedication and pride in defense was strong. And their ability to reclaim the momentum was crucial.

NDC 35
Tries: Hannon, Mills, Kainga, Gatica, Brown
Convs: McDonald 2
Pens: McDonald 2

St. Bonaventure 10
Tries: Hogan, Clink

Notre Dame College has many heroes on the day and through the season. Mills was MVP but Staples made several big plays and Thomson and Hannon were excellent. The tight five as a unit was very good. It’s also worth noting that NDC enjoyed their positive culture shift under one coach, Hanno van Vuuren, only to see him move back to South Africa and Hugh Johnston take over. To have a successful and well-liked coach leave and another just step in and everything continue on an upward trajectory speaks very well of the maturity of the players as much as anything else. 

Johnston handled his job in excellent fashion given that he is barely older than the players he coaches, but he used his assistants smartly and expected leadership from the players. And it all came together on a windswept, rainy night in Houston.