It hasn’t taken long for Christian Brothers Academy to enjoy success on the rugby field.
Competing in their first varsity season, the Colts (4-0) will meet St. Peter’s Prep of Jersey City (2-1) in the high school state championship game, sanctioned by Rugby New Jersey, 4 p.m. today on the Busch Campus at Rutgers University.
The progam began 31/2 years ago as an intramural sport. CBA played rugby as an interscholastic sport at the club level last year.
“We’re probably a year ahead of schedule,” said CBA coach Pat Moroney, who founded the program. “I did not expect us to be quite as successful as we have been this year.”
Assisted by James Lenihan, Brian Sheehy and Brian Gibbons, Moroney said the Colts play well as a unit.
“The strength of our team is we have no superstars,” he said. “The boys play for each other. This is not a team based on superstars, but on a collective team spirit. I am extremely happy with the season. Our boys have jelled real well together.”
The Colts opened this season with a 12-10 win over St. Peter’s and followed with conquests of the St. Augustine Prep School (32-19), the Delbarton School (22-12) and St. Augustine (81-8).
The latter victory was in the state tournament. Senior left wing Conor Moran and sophomore wing Greg Amaty led the Colts with three and two tries, respectively, in the tournament. Amaty scored both tries off turnovers.
The Colts have also received contributions from senior prop-vice captain Greg Criscitello, senior hooker Matt D’Amico, senior prop Louis Guardino, junior locks Ryan Powell, Ryan Onoshko and Brett Sullivan, junior flanker Brian Wright, senior flanker-captain Sal Scire, senior 8-man Greg Manzo, senior scrum half Mike Tomicello, senior fly half Nic Morris, senior center Ryan Kane, senior vice captain-center Zac Verdi, junior fullback Chris Stryker and senior prop Dan Kendall.
Other Colts who have made names for themselves are senior prop Jarred Warnke, senior hooker-flanker Morgan Knights, sophomore scrum half Nick Ponzio, junior fly half Connor Loder, junior center Pete Heilmann, senior fullback Kyle Runko and junior center-wing Justin Canale.
“We are a little smaller than the other teams so we tend to play a very fast, wide style,” Moroney said. “We attack from sideline to sideline. Against St. Peter’s, we probably give away 15 pounds per player. We will try to keep the game played at as high a tempo as possible. We are a very physical team, but we don’t want to become bogged down in a forwards battle.”
Moroney said the Colts are athletic.
“Our forwards and backs link well to each other in instructured play,” he said. “When we operate from a set piece, our guys run and handle the ball very well.”
Moroney last year guided the Red Bank-based Monmouth Rugby Club to the Round of 32 in the National Championship Tournament. Moroney, who hails from Dublin, Ireland, has played rugby for 30 years in Ireland, South Africa, the United States and the United Kingdom.
Moroney said CBA, led by school president Brother Frank Byrne, a 1975 graduate and a former University of Notre Dame rugby player at the club level, approached him about starting a program.
“A couple of CBA graduates and myself presented the concept to the school in terms of going from an intramural noncontact sport to a varsity club sport,” Moroney said. “Brother Byrne watches us and gives us encouragement.”
Moroney said the Colts also field freshmen and junior varsity teams.
“Between our freshmen, junior varsity and varsity teams, we have 70 players in the program,” he said. “Rugby is a great sport as it’s suited for everyone. As long as you are a little bit athletic, I can turn you into a rugby player. You can be 6-8 and 280 pounds or 5-6 and 150 pounds. Tomicello is our smallest player at 5-6 near 180 pounds. Guardino is our biggest at 240 pounds and 5-9. He has massive legs.
“As a coach, you want guys who are good decision makers. The hardest part of the game for an American athlete is that it’s a player’s sport. I don’t call the plays. The players call the plays. You want guys who take responsibility on their shoulders. You want guys who are honest and are good teammates. It’s the ultimate team sport. You have to work for the other 14 guys on the field or you’re not going to win the game.”
Moroney said CBA is the lone high school in Monmouth and Ocean counties with a team.
“At the end of this season, I want to spread the game around a little bit more,” he said. “I will meet with some of the athletic directors and see if we can get it going. The more schools we have playing near us, the better.”