Gentlemen too nice?
April 29, 2003
Like a noose, this tie could be a sign of a dynasty in decline, or, simply, the knot that binds them closer together.
Either way, Saturday’s stunning tie in the Lone Star State – Gentlemen of Aspen 21, Dallas Harlequins 21 – casts a dubious shadow on the Gents’ quest for a seventh straight U.S. rugby national championship.
“I’m pretty grumpy,” longtime Aspen coach Brian Going said Monday. “It was a game that we should never have lost.”
And surely, this tie stings like a loss.
“Most of the boys are feeling a little flat and so they should. Knowing that you should’ve won and you didn’t makes you feel empty, flat. But you know what: chin up and box on.”
It was the first tie for the Gents since they began competing at the nation’s highest level of rugby in 1995, and it was the first time since USA Rugby and Super League merged prior to the 2001 season that the Gents have posted a result other than a win outside of the early regular season.
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“We should have had our combinations sorted out by now,” said Going, who has guided Aspen to the last six national titles.
Despite a record that establishes Aspen as the most dominant club in U.S. rugby history, the Gents aren’t immune to losses (or ties, it seems, for that matter). In fact in 2001 and 2002, the Gents opened the USA Rugby Super League season with losses to California opponents only to rebound and beat the same teams (OMBAC and Belmont Shore, respectively) in the finals.
And this season, somewhat true to form, the Gents lost their third match of the season, March 29, to OMBAC, the Old Mission Beach Athletic Club. The Gents responded in similar fashion in their last two games, blowout wins over D.C.’s Potomac and then Boston, and hoped for a similar result in Dallas on Saturday.
So this tie, with just one game remaining in the regular season before the national championship tournament, is an unnerving development.
“I think this draw is as hard to take for me as the loss to OMBAC [March 29], because now we’re more than halfway through the season,” Going said.
“So we’ve got some repairs to make. I’m making player evaluations this week and some of them may be in for a surprise.”
Aspen and Dallas scored one try each in the first half Saturday, but Gents flyhalf and kicker Dean Walsh did the most damage with his boot. Walsh kicked three 3-point penalty kicks in the first half to Dallas’ two.
Dallas scored its try in the 40th minute to go up 11-9, but Aspen wing David Yavala answered with a try of his own in the 44th to swing the lead back to Aspen, 14-11.
Aspen had its chances for several tries in the first half, Going said, but could not finish.
“The guys clearly elevated their level of play, but it was one of those games where we just couldn’t finish,” said Aspen back Isaac Mbereko, who made his first start Saturday following an injury in the preseason.
“It was disappointing.”
Penalties stopped several drives for Aspen throughout the game as the referee whistled the Gents for 17 penalties compared to five for Dallas.
“We can’t blame the referee totally for the penalty count against us because we have ourselves to blame as well,” said Going. “Our discipline was lacking from time to time.
“But the majority of our team played as a team and engineered some great scoring movements that weren’t finished off. It’s as simple as that.”
In the second half, Yavala scored his second try of the day to give Aspen a 21-11 lead. But like the first half, Aspen couldn’t put Dallas away.
Dallas scored two more tries, including one in the final minutes, and had a chance to go ahead but missed both of their 2-point after-try conversions.
“We couldn’t pull off the upset,” Dallas coach Mark McCloy said in an article posted at http://www.usarugbysuperleague.com.
Aspen dropped to 4-1-1 overall in Super League play, Dallas fell to 3-2-1. Both remain in contention for the eight-team national championship tournament, scheduled to open May 17.
OMBAC and Belmont Shore continue to pace the league at 6-0 overall. The Chicago Lions remain the No. 2 team in the standings at 5-1, followed by Aspen at No. 4.
“I can’t remember having a tie in eight years that I’ve been here,” said Going. “So while I’m grumpy, it’s better than a loss.
“As for the playoffs, the tie is not a serious matter, it’s just the fact that now we can’t lose again.”
On Saturday, Aspen hosts its regular season finale against the New York Athletic Club, a cellar-dwellar, with no postseason aspirations, at 1-5 on the season. That being said, NYAC will be treating Saturday’s match at Rio Grande as its Super Bowl.
Going expects to have several Gents weapons available who did not play in Dallas, including U.S. National Team player and Aspen native Alec Parker and former U.S. Team players Jason Walker and Tasi Mounga.
“The run for a seventh title starts tomorrow,” Going said emphatically, referring to Aspen’s regular Tuesday night practice.
“Not Saturday, that’s too late. We’ve gotta build up to better things. It’s gotta be. It’s just gotta be.”
[Tim Mutrie’s e-mail address is email@example.com]
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