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Gents in!

Tim Mutrie

Rata Going and the Gentlemen of Aspen are off to Rhode Island.The Gents will play in the national championship final four this weekend after a retired Colorado Supreme Court justice ruled that while Going broke resident-player rules, the violation did not warrant expelling the team from the postseason.The binding arbitration hearing lasted five hours, featured seven witnesses and let out about 2 p.m. Thursday in Boulder. The Gents, a perennial power, planned to board a plane today. Their first match in a month kicks off in Newport, R.I., at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Ocean State time.Going remains eligible to play, the arbiter further ruled, but said USA Rugby was justified in revoking the New Zealand native’s “three-year resident player” status in the States. This weekend, Going must be counted as one of four “foreigners” allowed on the Gents’ 22-man game roster.The ruling ends a three-week controversy, one that Gents officials originally called a “witch hunt.””It’s a relief. We rejoiced for two minutes and then I started thinking about all the other problems that Saturday presents – on the field,” Gents head coach Mick Melrose said Thursday afternoon.”The weekend is finally clear,” said Keith Engelbrecht, chairman of the USA Rugby Super League (RSL). “It’s been muddied since Aspen got the injunction [in Boulder District Court], but now we can just get on with the games.”The arbiter also rejected Aspen’s claim that the team and Going were denied due process by USA Rugby.USA Rugby CEO Doug Arnot called the findings “a little incongruous,” but “equitable.””There’s a good chance an arbiter lets both sides walk out the door with something, and I think in this case we did,” Arnot said.”It’s very important to USA Rugby that they found that USA Rugby acted within its bylaws and followed due process,” Arnot added. “To us, those were the most critical issues – that it was fair.”On May 28, a week after three other Rugby Super League teams withdrew from postseason contention for player-eligibility reasons, the RSL made Aspen forfeit six of seven regular-season matches for carrying one extra foreigner, Going, in their lineup. The decision knocked the Gents’ record down from a perfect 7-0 to 1-6.The RSL, which defers to USA Rugby on player-eligibility matters, acted on the basis of a May 20 USA Rugby ruling and a May 27 appeal hearing with a different eligibility committee that found Going in violation of a rule governing resident players. USA Rugby said Going played in one too many matches (three) for another club in New Zealand in 2003, and revoked his resident player status retroactive to June of 2003.(Foreigners who have status as resident players, based primarily on three years of service with a particular club, count the same on rosters as American stock.)Aspen sued on June 2, challenging the allegation and the process, and won a temporary restraining order two days later against the league and its sanctioning body. The lawsuit forced RSL officials to postpone semifinal games scheduled for last weekend, pending a resolution.”I think everyone prefers that a champion is determined on the field,” USA Rugby’s Arnot said. “Now, it’s going to happen.”Said Gents president Andrew “Salty” Saltonstall: “It was a split decision, but I think both sides ended up winning.””I also think we’ll have an extremely hard go of it this weekend. We haven’t played in five weeks. But we’ve been given an opportunity, and hopefully we can make the best of it.”The Gents held one final training session last night at Rio Grande Park.The undefeated Gents kick off with Belmont Shore of Long Beach, Calif., (6-2) in the first semifinal on Saturday. San Francisco Golden Gate (8-0) faces the New York Athletic Club (7-1) in the second match.The winners meet at noon Sunday.”The whole club’s been on an emotional roller-coaster,” said coach Melrose, “but I’m sure the news has gone through Aspen very quickly in the last half-hour and everyone is going to be excited.””If we channel all this emotion correctly, it could be fantastic for us. But if we get overwhelmed by it, it could be a negative. I’m sure there’ll be a huge adrenaline rush on Saturday as we get closer to the game, and we’re going to have to be very careful that we don’t allow that to get in the way of what we want to achieve.”The team will make its bid for a seventh national title in eight years, Melrose noted, with injured teammate Pat Culley on everyone’s mind. Culley was paralyzed from the chest down in an awkward collision on May 1 during a match at Boston.”We’ll be thinking of him, playing for him,” Melrose said.Tim Mutrie’s e-mail address is mutrie@aspentimes.com


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