Gents hope 7 is a lucky number |

Gents hope 7 is a lucky number

Seven was supposed to be the number for the Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Football Club this year.

Beginning in 1997, when the Gents commenced an unprecedented reign of domination in American rugby, Aspen claimed a record six straight U.S. National Championships, the final one in June of 2002 here at Wagner Park.

But the quest for that No. 7 fell short this past spring, when the Gents were bounced from the national tourney in a final-four match against OMBAC, the eventual champ.

But seven – the 7s game of rugby that is – still has some cache for the Gents.

This weekend, the Gents’ 7s team travels to Pittsburgh for the U.S. National 7s Championship, a two-day, 16-team melee where the Gents have failed to earn the crown.

“They’re psyched and I hope they go all the way,” Lance Sigley, a fixture on Aspen’s national championship 15s sides and now coach of the summer-league team, said this week. “I know they’ve got the guys to do it. And it would be nice to come away with one national championship this year.”

For Aspen, the finest club in America since 1997, the elusive 7s title has never had more meaning.

While the Gents always practice twice a week (Tuesday and Thursday evenings), the Gents 7s side has been practicing an additional four times a week, beginning at 5:30 a.m.

And why?

“We’re pushing,” said Fred Waititi, coach of Aspen’s 7s team.

“It’s a heck of a lot more than we’re used to, but it’s necessary to play 7s at the level that we need to be competitive. We needed to be a lot fitter than we are.”

The regular brand of rugby features 15 players per side, while 7s is only 7 per side with 7 minute halfs (instead of 40 minutes in 15s) on a regular-sized field. Scoring and rules otherwise remain the same.

“We figured we want to win a national championship of some sort,” Waititi said, “and if we couldn’t do it in 15s, that leaves us with 7s. So yeah, we’re probably putting in a lot more work that we would’ve normally.”

Aspen will travel with 12 players, and the team leaves Friday morning. The 16 teams are grouped into four pools and after Saturday the top two teams from each pool will advance to the final eight on Sunday in a single-elimination bracket. Aspen, a final eight team last year, is seeded No. 6.

“You’ve got to win seven games to win the national title, so it’s a lot of play,” Waititi said.

“And in 7s, when you make a mistake it usually costs you a try, whereas in 15s you’ve got a lot more guys to cover your mistakes. So we’re definitely working on ways to cut down our error rate and to improve the way we use the ball we get.”

Aspen will be represented, in part, by Tasi Mounga, Rata Going, Karl Siteine, David Yavala, Matt Bluin, Andy Katoa and, with luck, Isaac Mbereko, Ryan Smythe and Gerhard Klerck.

“We’ve had a lot of guys we would have liked to have played who have been injured along the way, so we’re going with the ones who are available,” Waititi said. “We want to put together a squad not just to say that we competed, but one that has a decent crack at it.

“We’ve had to work a lot on defense, because in 7s if you can press the other team into making mistakes, it’s all the easier for you to capitalize. Usually when you’re in position with the ball, you’ve got to do a lot more running to make something of it. But if you can make them cough it up, hopefully you can make them pay dearly for it.

“Being able to run into space, instead of running into people, that’s one area where 7s is so different from 15s,” Waititi added. “In 7s you don’t have a pack for support, so you’ve got to run into space and you don’t always have to be running forward; you can go backward – the main thing is that you maintain possession.”

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