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Gents escape New York

Tim Mutrie

Facing their best opposition yet this season – and for a time in the second half, their first deficit – the Gentlemen of Aspen clamped down and rallied to beat the New York Athletic Club 25-15 in a bruising match on Saturday in New York.

With tries from veterans Rata Going and Juan Grobler in the second half, and the trusty boot of flyhalf and kicker Brendan Walsh, the Gents overcame a 15-13 NYAC lead with 20 minutes to play to win a USA Rugby Super League battle of unbeatens.

With two games to play in the regular season, Aspen improved to 5-0 while NYAC dropped to 4-1. The only other undefeated team in the Super League, Golden Gate (4-0) of San Francisco, had its match against the Denver Barbarians postponed due to snow in Denver.

“Hard game – by far the hardest game we’ve had so far,” said first-year Gents coach Mick Melrose in a telephone interview from New York on Sunday.

“They were the best defensive line we’ve seen and it took us a lot of phases and a lot of hard work to break through them and score tries. And it was the first time, I suppose, where we had to play under pressure against a team that was controlling a lot of the game.”

A very physical match, according to Melrose, Aspen forward Fleming Trane sustained a knee-ligament injury, and Walsh, who played the entire game and contributed 10 points on kicks, apparently cracked his cheekbone or eye socket in a collision

“He just thought it was a cut so he stayed in there,” said Melrose. “But after they checked him out and the doctors are a bit concerned…”

Playing with a stiff wind in the first half, Aspen veteran Tasi Mounga scored Aspen’s only try of the first half. With a 2-point conversion from Walsh, and later a 3-point penalty kick, Aspen took a 10-0 lead.

“Then they scored a very nice try off a backline movement off a scrum,” said Melrose, “to make it 10-7 going into halftime.”

“Having run with that wind and we’re only ahead three points, I was quite concerned at halftime,” he continued.

NYAC used the wind to score a try (unconverted) and a penalty kick, compared to one Walsh penalty kick for Aspen, leaving Aspen in a 15-13 hole with about 20 minutes left.

Then Going stepped up, capping off an Aspen backline movement for a try (unconverted) to take the lead back, 18-15. And with about 10 minutes remaining and NYAC desperate, Aspen’s Grobler intercepted a long NYAC pass and ran it in between the goal posts to set Walsh up for an easy conversion. The try and kick gave Aspen the 25-15 advantage.

“We made a lot of mistakes, we didn’t play our best footie, but at the same time we did a good job closing them down where we could and taking our chances against the wind in the second half to get a couple of tries and win the game,” said Melrose.

Aspen, which was unseated last spring for the USA Rugby Super League national championship after an unprecedented dynasty of domination (six straight USA Rugby titles, and two straight USA Rugby Super League titles since the leagues merged three seasons ago, in 2001), now has a clear path to one of the top seeds in the 2004 national tournament.

Aspen travels to Boston (0-5) on Saturday, and then hosts OMBAC (4-1), the Old Mission Beach Athletic Club of San Diego, in the regular-season finale on May 8.


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