Seven Aspen Gents suit up for Team USA
July 2, 2009
ASPEN – Rather than travel with the Gentlemen of Aspen’s 7’s squad to sweltering Dallas this past weekend, head coach Fred Waititi opted to head to San Francisco.
The chance to suit up for Team USA’s over-30 squad was something he could not pass up.
Waititi had company. A total of seven Gents were invited to California to play two games against Team Canada. No other club team in the country was as well represented, Waititi said Wednesday.
“I don’t know if it’s a reflection of how good we are, or how old we are,” he joked. “It was nice to be able to play with each other in that sort of game.”
Scouts selected Aspen’s Waititi, Isaac Mbereko, Juan Grobler, Jack Wilfley, Greg Tarpey, Ryan Dalrymple and Phil Bennett to participate in the exhibition. Joining them were a host of players from top-tier leagues like Division I and the Super League.
The U.S. will invite new crops of players to compete in similar matches in coming months. The ultimate goal is to assemble a roster of the nation’s top talent to compete in an international tournament in November in Bermuda.
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“I think for all of us having watched rugby around the world, this is one of the major tournaments you can go to,” Waititi said. “It’s televised and it’s also in a pretty nice place. It would be a great opportunity. … I’m pretty sure all seven of us think about it.”
Mbereko and Grobler were selected to compete for the U.S. in last year’s tournament. In an interesting twist, Bennett traveled to the event as a spectator but wound up playing for Argentina, who was forced to recruit athletes after being decimated by injuries.
Waititi previously had been asked to try out. Until this year, he had never participated.
“My first obligation is to the club and to the players, and trying to get us along on the winning way,” added Waititi, who guided the Gents to the Division I title in late May. “To be truthful, my best playing days are over. My main interest is trying to make our players as good as what they can be.
“Things just worked out. This was just a little bonus.”
All seven Gents took the pitch together multiple times during the two games. The U.S. battled to a 14-all draw in Game 1, then unraveled during the second contest. They trailed 12-7 with little more than two minutes to go, but surrendered multiple tries down the stretch en route to a 29-7 loss.
“It was frustrating at times,” Waititi admitted. “Picking players from all over the country and getting together two days before you play, it’s hard to get any feel or consistency. You only get that with time. … I’m pretty sure had we taken Aspen – we all have an idea how to play together – we would’ve done much better.
“I was reasonably happy. … I felt pretty good, and most of our guys just finished a full competitive season. We all are where we should be at this time of year.”
Whether that is good enough to secure a spot on the U.S. side and a trip to Bermuda remains to be seen. The team will likely be named in September or October, Waititi said.
Either way, the coach said it was nice to see that Aspen did not get overlooked.
“It’s just nice to think that our players and our club are getting recognized and getting opportunities again, like they used to,” he added. “We’ve had our opportunity to show what we can do, and it’s up to the guys that pick their lot. … It’s just high hopes now.”
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