Gents set to open season at Boston
March 22, 2002
In the storied 34-year history of the Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Football Club, the team has faced the Boston R.F.C. just once. That meeting came last May, at Aspen’s Rio Grande Park in the first round of the USA Rugby Premier League playoffs, and resulted in a punishing 61-8 victory for the home team en route to their fifth straight national championship.
However, the Gents – a team that prides itself more on its fear of losing than the wins it has accumulated during the national championship run, dating back to 1997 – aren’t taking the Boston ruggers lightly. In fact, when Aspen kicks off at Boston on Saturday to open its Premier League regular-season schedule, the Gents are giving Boston their full weight in respect.
“We know they’ve got big forwards. They’re one of the bigger teams we’ll see all year,” Gents captain Jason Walker said Thursday. “And we’re gearing up toward that.
“And even though we beat them pretty good last year, they moved pretty well even at this altitude,” continued Walker, a Gents veteran who plays eight-man in the forward pack. “They’re a big mobile pack, and we’ll need to match that.”
Earlier this month, Gents coach Brian Going, who has been at the helm for Aspen since 1994, said team’s success this season hinges on the play of its forwards. “I really think we’ve got the backs to do the business and we’ve got a team that can do the business if we can just beef up our front row a little bit,” Going said.
Following the retirements of Gents legends Lance Sigley and Bill LeClerc, the two props who along with Ian Walker comprised Aspen’s front three in the scrum for years, Going issued a challenge to his forwards, “to give us a front row that’s going to be competitive.”
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And Walker said Aspen’s big men are up to the task.
“The onus is always on us to provide the ball for all that talent outside,” Walker said Thursday. “We like that pressure. We’ve got the size and the speed to provide that ball. We all just have to perform on the day. We don’t have as much experience up front as we’re used to, losing Lance Sigley and Bill LeClerc, but we’ll make up for that in effort.
“If we can let our backs go – there’s so much speed and talent – if we can get them enough ball, they’ll put the game away,” Walker continued.
In the backs, Aspen is stacked with talent, including former U.S. national team players Mark Williams, Brian Hightower, Jaun Grobler, Bobby Lochrem, Chris Morrow and Tomasi Takau. Aspen also returns scrum half and former Zimbabwe national team player Isaac Mbereko, who brings a combination of savvy and savagery that earned him MVP honors in the national championship game last June.
At the forwards, hooker Ian Walker returns to anchor the scrum, likely joined by props Will Munsour and Monte Earl, who started at the bookend positions on Sunday in an exhibition game against the Denver Barbarians. Veterans Bo Buck and Fleming Trane are probable starters in the second row for Aspen (in the absence of Gerhard Klerck, who sustained a partially dislocated shoulder vs. the Barbos), while Tasi Mounga and Sean McGuire will cement the scrum from the flanker positions, along with Walker at eight-man.
Because snow still blankets the fields around Aspen, the Gents have been holding preseason training indoors at the Cozy Point Ranch Riding Arena, just downvalley from the intersection of Highway 82 and Brush Creek Rd., since Feb. 1. This season, Aspen’s only outing on real grass came last Sunday in a 48-10 exhibition-game rout of the Barbarians at Observatory Park in Denver. After snow forced a postponement from Saturday, the Gents helped shovel the field on Sunday in order to squeeze the essential tuneup game in that afternoon.
“It’s too early to say what we’re made of even after that first game,” Walker said. “We played well, but there were quite a few handling errors that cost us a few tries, and that’ll happen. I’m excited about the team based on last week, but we’ve got a lot of room for improvement.
“Once we get outside – hopefully soon when we can get outside in Carbondale – we can run our backs and forwards together,” he continued. “It’s pretty hard to do that in the horse barn.”
Aspen has played from a similar disadvantage the last six seasons, so it’s not a new challenge for the Gents to rise to game readiness while still training indoors. However, in Aspen’s opening league game last season, a sluggish Gents team got thumped 32-5 by the so-called OMBAC team (Old Mission Beach Athletic Club of San Diego) in Southern California.
But instead of folding, the Gents used the loss for inspiration as they finished the regular season undefeated and advanced to the finals against OMBAC last June in Rockford, Ill. Aspen dominated in the rematch, whipping OMBAC 56-21 to claim a fifth straight national title.
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