Gents host rival OMBAC in rugby match Saturday at Rio Grande |

Gents host rival OMBAC in rugby match Saturday at Rio Grande

As Gents coach Brian Going put it: “This is the championship game right here.”

On Saturday at Aspen’s Rio Grande Park, the Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Football Club hosts its most feared and respected rival in OMBAC, the Old Mission Beach Athletic Club of San Diego. The USA Rugby Premier League match is slated to kick off at 3 p.m.

The last meeting between Aspen and OMBAC, two of the oldest and most dominant teams in the top tier of rugby in the nation, was for the national championship. Expect the same intensity this time around.

“They deserve a lot of respect,” said Going, who has guided Aspen to five-straight national championships, including last June’s 56-21 rout of OMBAC. “They’re a well-organized club with a lot of depth. We’ve got to cover it all.

“I think this is the key game. OMBAC has a history of being in the finals year after year. They know all about pressure footie.

“I’m used to the pressure, but we’ve got a few new players who aren’t. It’s going to be a big test,” Going continued.

The game serves as the main event in a full day of rugby at Rio Grande Park. At noon the Gentlemen B-side hosts Colorado State University, and at 1:30 p.m. the Mount Sopris Regulators (a high school-age team from Carbondale and Glenwood Springs) hosts Highlands Ranch, the defending Colorado state champs at the high school level.

Aspen stands at 2-0 in Premier League play on the season, with a 49-8 win over Philly-Whitmarsh last Saturday in Carbondale and a 47-10 rout of Life College in Marietta, Ga., on April 6.

Meanwhile, OMBAC is 2-0-1 with wins over the Washington Rugby Club and the Dallas Harlequins. OMBAC was forced to settle for a tie, 28-28, against the New York Old Blue on April 6.

In the advent of foul weather in Aspen, all three games may be shifted to Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale. (For the latest information about Saturday’s venue, call the Gents hot line at 947-5198.)

Though averaging 48 points in both of its games this season, Aspen hasn’t been satisfied with either effort.

“The coach is not happy. Everyone is not happy. This is just not good enough,” said scrum half Isaac Mbereko, the vice captain, after Saturday’s win over Philly-Whitmarsh.

“It’s a bad sign when you think you’re always playing a perfect game,” continued Mbereko, a former Zimbabwe National Team player. “This is a good sign that everyone knows we can do better. I’m sure the guys will put the work in and you’ll see a different team” Saturday.

Aspen will need to. In the Gents’ season-opener last year against OMBAC in San Diego, Aspen was dealt one of its worst defeats in club history, 32-5. For Aspen, which has posted an astounding 111-6 record since opening play at the elite level in 1996, the loss haunted them all season.

Aspen got its revenge in the national championship game last June as the Gents ran over OMBAC for its record-tying fifth-straight title. After the game, several of Aspen’s key veterans who anchored the national championship run, including fly half and kicker Mark Williams, hooker Ian Walker, flanker Dougald Gillies, second-rower Bo Buck and prop Bill LeClerc, all announced their retirements. However, all but LeClerc are back in the red and black this season, gunning for No. 6.

“I understand all their retirees did not retiree,” sighed OMBAC coach Bing Dawson in a telephone interview this week. “It’s great for them, bad for us.

“The altitude’s a factor, but I mean their team is the factor,” continued Dawson, a former U.S. National Team coach who’s been at the helm of OMBAC since 1982, the year Williams joined the Gents. “They have an experienced team that’s been together for quite a while and that has a history of tremendous success. You’d hope to play your best game of the year, but still that may not be enough.”

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