New edition Gents roll past Steamboat
The Aspen Times
The new edition Gentlemen of Aspen offered a rugby tutorial Saturday as they blitzed visiting Steamboat Springs in the home opener at Rio Grande Park.
The Gents, with a roster filled with college rugby players, stunned Steamboat with a multiple-phase attack and an aggressive defense, eventually winning 75-5.
The Gentlemen, who led 35-0 at halftime, totaled 10 tries against the visitors. Nine of the 10 were converted by standout Lungile Tshuma of Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri. Originally from Zimbabwe, Tshuma scored two tries in the opening half and added three more in the second half.
His try just before halftime came after a long kick by Matt Williams, the former Junior Gents’ standout now playing at UCLA.
“The altitude always helps,” Williams said of his towering field-position kick that set up Tshuma’s second try of the game. “But it is great to be get back up here to Aspen; the best place to play rugby.”
Williams played multiple positions for the Gents on Saturday, adding to his experience at UCLA where coaches had him at scrum half, flanker and inside center.
“It’s fun learning different positions,” said Williams, who won a state high school championship while playing with the Junior Gents. “It’s great to have players … here from different schools. We have players like Lungi (Lungile Tshuma) helping out other players. We’re all playing together.”
He said the Gents’ practice sessions are more comprehensive and competitive with the big summer turnout of rugby players, including other college players from Humboldt State, Middle Tennessee and LSU, among others.
“Everyone gets to practice offense and defense,” said Williams, who will return to UCLA rugby in the fall.
The Gents extended their first-half momentum into the second half when their offensive game advanced with more second-phase and third-phase attacks.
Tshuma scored on a twisting run. Luke Prosence of the Gents set up another score.
And when Tshuma off-loaded to a full-speed James Aldridge, the former Notre Dame running back dissected the middle of the Steamboat defense for a try that brought the Saturday afternoon crowd to its feet.
While the Aspen offense clicked, Aspen head coach Cameron McIntyre said he was even more pleased with the Gents’ defensive play.
“Our defense, especially close to the ruck, was the big lift today,” McIntyre said “It’s something we’d worked on. We’re a lot more aggressive. We want to press off the line, to push their advantage line back. “
The defense then must fill in after each tackle.
“That was a big factor today. They were frustrated in attack because of the defense,” the Aspen coach said. “That was a big advance today as a team, versus where we where a week ago or two weeks ago.”
He said the spirited practice sessions have helped the Gents early in the season.
“There’s competition for positions and that elevates the level of practice and the level of play,” McIntyre said, adding that the new experienced players are eager to share their knowledge.
Wes LaBorte, an LSU rugby player who is spending his second summer season with the Gents, was named the player of the match Saturday.
He and the Gents will return to action next Saturday, July 2, in the traditional holiday rugby game in Aspen. The Gents will take on the Misfits at 1 p.m. next Saturday with a large crowd expected.
“We’ve got to be consistent for the whole game (against the Misfits),” McIntyre said. “And we’ve got to be a little more creative in attack.”
The players also are eager for the holiday weekend test against the Misfits, who usually field a veteran club for the Aspen game.
“We can’t wait,” Williams said. “The Fourth of July (holiday) game is always the best.”
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Peter Arnold’s playing career ended after high school, but his time on the ice continues a few decades later. A longtime USA Hockey official and new Aspen resident, Arnold is searching for the next generation of hockey referees among the youth ranks here in the Roaring Fork Valley.