Gentlemen take a bruising in City of Brotherly Love
August 14, 2002
The Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Football Club has already claimed one national title this summer – in June, the squad became USA Rugby National champs for the sixth year in a row.
Looks like the team will have to be content with that single – albeit significant – trophy for another year.
A squad of nine Gents, all significant players during the club’s USA Rugby win, traveled to Philadelphia last weekend for the U.S. Sevens National Championship. The Gents claimed three victories – including a win over the eventual tournament champs – and weathered two losses to finish the 16-team tournament in sixth place.
A second national title would have been nice, Gents player and spokesman Andy Katoa said, but an invitation to the sevens’ top tourney was reward enough. After all, taking on sevens – a variation of regulation rugby, in which teams are cut down from the usual 15 players to just seven – was just an experiment for the seasoned ruggers.
“This year was kind of a trial run to see how far we could go,” Katoa said.
Pretty far, apparently. The Gents won a July 6 match in Oklahoma City to claim a berth to the Western Rugby Sevens Championships in Denver. After finishing that tournament as one of the top two teams, Aspen was invited to Philadelphia.
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Unfortunately, the Gents hit a few snags on their way to a sevens title. The team was only able to round up nine players for the trip – seven for the field, two men in reserves – but that number was quickly whittled down by injuries.
Gents President Andy Saltonsall said the team’s efforts were undermined by its limited roster.
“They had a really good chance of winning the whole thing, but they were short on numbers,” Saltonsall said. “They ran short on gas, which will happen. It’s like playing a football game with 11 players.”
Though shorthanded, Aspen took the field on Saturday to begin the tournament’s “pool play.” Katoa said the team won all three of its matches, even besting the defending national champions from San Diego.
“I think we beat them by two points, but in sevens, that’s like 30,” Katoa said.
The wins pushed the Gents to the tournament’s “Elite 8” on Sunday. The team was quickly knocked from championship contention by a top Maryland team, 21-14, Katoa said.
“We came out pretty flat, and they caught us off guard,” he said. “They were able to capitalize on our mistakes, and then we’re trying to play catchup rugby. We were playing catchup rugby throughout the first half.”
Aspen was pushed to a consolation round Sunday afternoon, where the team was dealt their second and final loss. The Denver Barbarians took advantage of the exhausted Gents, Katoa said.
“They’re a very experienced team, and we were hurting – our guys were just straight out hurting,” he said. “Toward the end of the day, guys were playing with injuries. That game took its toll.”
Though many of the last seven standing are still nursing injuries, Katoa reported that the Gents will be back next summer for another season of sevens experimentation.
“I told the guys, ‘I think we can do it. If we can play smart rugby and good rugby, good things will come of it,'” he said. “I like to think we did a very good job and had a successful weekend. We proved to everybody we could play sevens.
“I think next season we’ll be better prepared for the duration.”
[Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
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