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Gents find form in opener

Tim Mutrie
Aspen Times Staff Writer

After a month and a half of practicing indoors at the Cozy Point Riding Arena, the Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Football Club was ready to ride Saturday.

The six-time defending USA Rugby National Champions opened the 2003 Super League season with a 43-25 win over the Kansas City Blues in balmy, 70-degree weather in Kansas City, Mo.

Aspen wing and interim captain Brian Hightower scored three tries, including the pivotal first two in the opening 15 minutes, as the dominating Gents posted a 24-8 lead at halftime.

“We always have trouble with that first game, because we’re confined to the barn, but we did pretty good,” said Brian Going, the New Zealander coach who has been at the Aspen helm for the last eight seasons.

“In the first 30 minutes, we played some fairly attractive rugby. Good constructive rugby; simple but good.”

Prior to Saturday’s match, the Gents had played on grass all of four times this spring, including an exhibition game Saturday, March 8, in Carbondale against the Denver Barbarians. And Going only rejoined the team last Tuesday night. “I stepped off the plane and went to the horse stables to practice,” he said.

But if Aspen’s preparation was lacking, it didn’t show Saturday vs. the Blues, a club that finished in the bottom half of the standings last season.

“Just for us to have grass under our boots and a full-length pitch, it was good,” Going said. “I think the team spirit just built and built as the game went on. Even at the hotel, you could feel it coming on, and by the end of the weekend the whole camaraderie feeling was very prominent.”

After Hightower’s tries in the 6th and 15th minutes, with conversions by Dean Walsh and Chris Morrow, respectively, Kansas City scored its first try of the day in the 17th.

Aspen forward Gerhard Klerk, injured for much of the postseason last year, scored a try in the 30th minute, and back Damian Flynn ran in another in the 39th to lift Aspen to the 24-8 halftime lead, including a Kansas City penalty kick in the 38th.

In the first minute of the second half, Aspen back Ryan Smythe punched in a try for Aspen, followed with another by wing Bobby Lochrem to bolster Aspen’s lead to 36-8. The Blues responded with three unanswered tries in a 15-minute span, cutting the deficit to 36-25, but only for about a minute. Then, Hightower rushed in for his third try of the day to put the game away.

“Hightower was captain for the day, and as I’ve said before, if he can lead by example and not words, that’s fine with me, and he scored a hat trick of tries.”

Gents forward Tasi Mounga, a former U.S. National Team player, was his usual self Saturday, Going reported. “He was sure on fire, just charging around, knocking people over. And that motivates everybody. He hit one guy and just about split him in half.”

Going also singled out Mark Wisroth, a reserve forward last season, along with Klerk, who’s health is the only thing in question.

“Mark’s trained hard and he’s pretty determined,” said Going. “And Gerhard [Klerk] said to me on the plane he was just happy to get through the game. And I said, ‘Well then look out because when he’s match fit he’ll be awesome!'”

Next up for Aspen: Saturday at the Olympic Club Blues in San Francisco, a club that dropped its opener 21-0 to OMBAC of San Diego.


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