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Gents off to mess with Texas

Nate PetersonAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN New Gents head coach Fred Waititi mentioned only three players by name when asked who stood out in Saturday’s home rugby match at Rio Grande Park.That the Gents won, 67-7, says something about Waititi’s expectations for his young team. “Match Murphy, our fullback, he scored some great tries, both off planned plays,” said Waititi, a five-year club veteran from New Zealand who replaced Steve Blair over the winter. “Brandon MacDonald and Matt Doubek, both second rowers they did a lot of the dirty work. “The rest of us sort of just did our thing. We had a couple of old fossils come out for a bit of a trot.”Waititi expects a more focused effort from his charges this weekend in Fort Worth, Texas, where the Gents will vie for a berth into the round of 16 in the Division I national playoffs.The Gents qualified for the regional championship round April 7 in Nebraska, after drilling the Omaha Goats, 65-7. The home match against Glendale was simply a tune-up for the two clubs Aspen will face in Texas – Austin and Woodlands.”I know absolutely nothing about them,” Waititi said of the opposition. “The teams we’re playing now, we don’t know much about. It’s hard to know where our own team is going. We’re at the stage now where we don’t care who we play.”After winning six consecutive national titles, the Gents dropped out of the U.S.A. Rugby Super League two years ago. They started playing in Division I – which is organized regionally – in October.The switch was a pragmatic one: Aspen spends less money on travel and typically plays two teams on a road trip in its new league, as opposed to traveling across the country for one contest.Waititi is quick to point out, however, that the new competition isn’t inferior to what the Gents used to see in the Super League – the most prestigious domestic league.If anything, it’s consistently better.”The Super League is not always necessarily the best teams, it’s the teams that can afford to play,” Waititi said. “There’s still a lot of players from the [the U.S. national team] on the Super League side, but a lot of them are also playing in Division I. The teams in Division I are much closer. In the Super League there were two or three teams on the top – which is where we were – and below them you had a lot of cannon fodder.”The current Gents roster is made up mostly of young American-born players from Aspen and nearby mountain towns. The players from Steamboat Springs, Vail and Glenwood Springs will take up with their local clubs once the Mountain Rugby League season starts this summer.”It’s an opportunity for them to play at a higher level right now,” Waititi said of Aspen’s sojourning players. “There’s a lot of talent, but not a lot of experience.”Saturday’s rout of Glendale illustrated such. The general play on the field was substandard, Waititi said, but that was coupled with some great individual efforts.”The tries we scored were good ones,” he said. “There were a lot of them, and they were fine moves, which was pleasing.”Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is npeterson@aspentimes.com


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