1-2-3 national titles for Gents
Make it 1-2-3 for the Gentlemen of Aspen.
The Aspen rugby club survived the stifling heat of Cincinnati to win a third consecutive USA Rugby national championship over the weekend.
The Gentlemen of Aspen shut out the explosive San Mateo Rugby Club in Saturday’s national semifinal 27-0.
And on Sunday, sweating through the 95-degree heat and 90-percent humidity, the Gentlemen came from behind in the second half to defeat Golden Gate 30-13 and successfully defend their back-to-back national club titles.
“It’s just such a tremendous feeling,” said Aspen veteran Mark Williams, who rebounded from injury to play in Sunday’s sweat fest against Golden Gate.
“It’s been such a long haul for us, but I just knew these guys could do it.
“From training in the snow and the gym and in the horse barns … to get ready for this,” Williams said amid the joyous Gentlemen’s celebration in Cincinnati Sunday afternoon.
“I knew that the team could come back, even after trailing 14-10 at halftime,” Williams said of Sunday’s championship.
Following the advice of coach Brian Going, their beloved leader, the Gentlemen returned to the pitch in the second half and dominated play – outscoring Golden Gate 20-3.
“We were a little slow in the first half, but Brian told us to keep doing what we were doing and then pick up the pace,” Williams said.
“And the boys played great,” he added, dishing out credit to an unselfish team that pulled together with incredible team effort.
“The forward pack, everyone, played great,” he said of the versatile 21-player squad at the national championships.
“Jason Gillam was outstanding, absolutely outstanding,” Williams said. “His tacking was the difference against San Mateo,” Williams added of the key semifinal showdown against the explosive and tough team from California.
“He played so hard and he was fabulous.
“Jason Walker … he was awesome … awesome,” Williams said of the longtime leader and U.S. Eagle.
Williams said Walker’s experience and leadership again proved invaluable as the Gentlemen claimed their third consecutive national title, with a second-half comeback.
And the coach, too, was credited … beyond words.
“He is a great coach. You have to stay on your toes to do this (national tournament play) and that’s what Brian Going does for us.
“It’s unique for this club,” Williams said, “but he’s close to a lot of our players. And he’ll always be close to a lot of our players … our players feel an attachment to him.”
Williams said the third national title is particularly sweet because a number of the players are nearing the end of their national careers.
The veterans like Bill LeClerc and Bob LeClerc and Bo Buck will certainly appreciate the 1999 national title, Williams said.
But he added that each national title is special in its own way, in its own right.
This year, he said, the Gentlemen were bolstered by the return of U.S. Eagle winger Brian Hightower at Cincinnati’s final four.
The international rugby star who learned the game with the Gentlemen of Aspen returned to the club and helped the Gents again. And that’s another special part of the spirit of the Gentlemen of Aspen, Williams said.
“Everyone contributed. Chris Morrow … he stepped up and played and played well. And the whole club.”
“Each one (national title) is a great feeling. The third one is great … because it doesn’t happen that you can three-peat in anything, so that makes this one special,” Williams said.
The road to the title game came with an intense game on Saturday against the San Mateo club, a team with a number of current U.S. Eagles.
The battle of territory saw the Gentlemen clinging to a 12-0 lead with five minutes remaining in the physical match. But then the Gentlemen exploded by scoring 15 points to finish with the 27-0 shutout of San Mateo.
Dougald Gillies scored three tries in the huge semifinal victory.
Fellow Gent Gillam also was credited with a monster game in shutting down the potent Tongans of San Mateo.
With little time to celebrate their third consecutive national club championship, the Gentlemen jump right back into the Rugby Super League playoffs next weekend.
The Gentlemen are scheduled to play host to Belmont Shore on Saturday, June 12.
The Rugby Super League semifinal game will be played at Wagner Rugby Stadium or Rio Grande Field.
The Gentlemen reached the Super League semifinals with a 55-7 win over the Potomac Athletic Club in the first round of the playoffs.
They will return to home territory for Saturday’s game against visiting Belmont Shore, the team that ousted the Gentlemen of Aspen from the Super League playoffs a year ago.
Belmont Shore stopped highly regarded Life College of Georgia 17-16 to reach the berth opposite Aspen.
Belmont Shore scored a try and added the winning conversion as time expired in the quarterfinal showdown with Life College.
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