Gents open in style, crushing Life 47-10 |

Gents open in style, crushing Life 47-10

Tim Mutrie
Aspen Times Staff Writer

With just one exhibition game under their belts and only two practices outside, the Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Football Club entered the opening game of the USA Rugby Premier League schedule a wary bunch.

The five-time defending USA Rugby Premier League national champions treat each game in similar fashion (stacking win upon win is how the Gents accomplished the feat in the first place), but the season opener is different. Add powerhouse Life College as the opponent and Marietta, Ga., as the site, and the first-game butterflies are only compounded.

“Life College is rated in the top three in America, and that’s why we were training cautiously,” said Gents coach Brian Going. “They [Life College] train every day, outside no less, and they’ve already had a ton of matches. I was expecting a really tough match, and so were they.”

The Gents squelched any and all doubts when they stepped onto the pitch under sunny skies near Atlanta Saturday. Aspen flanker Tasi Muanga punched in the first of three tries in the third minute as Aspen cruised to a 27-0 halftime lead en route to a punishing 47-10 victory.

“It was an absolute gem how it started,” said Going, who has guided Aspen to five straight national titles. “What a dream start really – 23 frustrated rugby players just itching to have a game.

“We had points on the board in the first five minutes thanks to Tasi, and that knocked them back, knocked them off their game immediately,” the coach continued.

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Historically known for its wide-open, “West Coast” style of play that favors speedy backs over burly forwards, Aspen made a calculated move away from its roots against Life College, Going said.

“I figured because they’ve got players on their side from Aspen, they may have thought we’d go wide all the time,” Going explained. “But we changed the plan and instead we kept close inside and took ’em by surprise, using our rucks and mauls.”

Muanga, captain and eight-man Jason Walker, second-rower Dougald Gilles and scrum half Isaac Mbereko combined to set the tone inside, Going said.

“Tasi was outstanding, but it was a combination of Jason and Tasi. We trained using Tasi and Jason’s ability inside, and it worked. They complimented each other superbly on the weekend,” Going said. “And Isaac and Dougald took it to ’em as well.

“My main concern was to match [Life College] up front in the forwards, and we managed to do that,” Going continued. “There were only a couple times they threatened us up front.”

Muanga scored all three of his tries in the first half, and fly half and kicker Mark Williams added three-point conversion kicks each time as Aspen took the 27-0 lead at halftime.

Life got on the scoreboard early in the second half with a three-point penalty kick before Mbereko ran in his first try of the day. James LeGrice scored Life’s only try of the day in the 48th minute, before Walker and Mbereko added insurance tries down the stretch, with one additional conversion from Williams.

“Even though the scoreboard turned out well for us, there’s a ton of room for improvement as the boys will find out tonight,” Going said Monday before practicing outside at Aspen High in the evening.

Walker, the captain, said Saturday’s win doesn’t take any pressure off the team.

“We’ll be training outside now on full-length fields, so we can start to get up to speed,” he said, “but the pressure’s still on. We take every game as it comes, and there’s three other teams out there making a lot of noise and we’ve got to build up and get ready for them.”

Those teams, San Francisco’s Golden Gate, Los Angeles’ Belmont Shore and San Diego’s OMBAC (Old Mission Beach Athletic Club), aren’t on Aspen’s immediate radar yet, even though Aspen travels to Belmont Shore on April 27.

Next up for Aspen is the Philly-Whitmarsh club. On Saturday, Aspen hosts Philly-Whitmarsh at 3 p.m. in Carbondale at Roaring Fork High School. The game will follow a high school rugby game between Roaring Fork High and Douglas County at 1:30 p.m.

“They’re a good solid side,” Walker said, not overlooking Aspen’s unique home-field (or perhaps high-altitude-field) advantage.

“A lot of teams get psychologically outdone by the altitude business,” he said, “especially in the first 10 minutes of the game when they can’t breathe. That always helps, and the pressure of traveling too.”

“We can’t take ’em lightly,” added coach Going. “I know they beat Boston and they’ve got a couple of ex-Eagles [U.S. national team players] and a good coach.

“Home-field advantage is huge, and we want to capitalize on that, as well as having our fans here,” he said. “We hope they turn up.”

Admission is free to Saturday’s game.

In other action around the USA Rugby Premier League over the weekend: Philadelphia/Whitmarsh 31, Boston 22; Denver Barbarians 15, New York Athletic Club 12; Potomac Athletic Club 28, Chicago Lions 21; Dallas Harlequins 50, Olympic Club Blues (San Francisco) 19; Kansas City Blues 40, Old Puget Sound Beach (Seattle) 20; Belmont Shore (Los Angeles) 22, San Francisco Golden Gate 16; Old Blue New York 28, OMBAC (San Diego) 28 (tie).

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