Gents rout Denver in final tuneup for regular season
Aspen Times Staff Writer
After getting snowed out on Saturday, then shoveling the field Sunday in order to squeeze the game in that afternoon, the Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Football Club staged a 48-10 rout of the Denver Barbarians at Observatory Park in Denver.
For the five-time defending USA Rugby Premier League national champion Gents, the exhibition game served as a first and last tuneup before their regular-season league schedule opens at Boston on Saturday.
“We did surprisingly well considering we hadn’t seen grass in eight months,” said veteran Gents fly half Mark Williams. “But it doesn’t mean anything ’til next week.
“There’s no doubt we’re a little sore today,” Williams continued Monday, “but we just had to get the game in. And it gave a lot of the guys, especially the new guys, a chance to show what they could do, and the older guys a chance to show if they were up to it.”
Gents coach Brian Going, the feisty New Zealander who has guided Aspen to five straight national championships, was happy with Sunday’s performance. Especially, he said, considering his team has been training indoors since Feb. 1 at the Cozy Point Ranch Riding Arena near Woody Creek. Twice a week the team practices on sandy footing engineered for horses.
“We’re just so grateful to have a bit of grass under our shoes instead of running around the stables,” he said. “It took us awhile to stretch our legs – you’re used to running short distances in training, then you get out on a field that’s twice as long and twice as wide and it’s pretty hard going.
“But if we had to shovel two fields, we would’ve done it. It was essential that we had that game in our preparation for Boston, and we thank Denver for working with us to get in the match.”
Going said the Denver Barbarians, a team that finished in the middle of the pack last season in the USA Rugby Premier League, came at Aspen hard in the opening 25 minutes of Sunday’s game.
“They made a good fist of it,” Going said. “Good stern opposition, and they made us work. Then we scored a few tries toward the end of the half.
“My talk to the boys at halftime was this: Stick to our game plan for the next 10 minutes, they’ll fold and we’ll walk all over them. And that’s basically what happened,” he said.
Prior to the game, Going said Aspen’s biggest challenge this season hinges on finding a solid front three in the scrum, following the retirements of his two props, Lance Sigley and Bill LeClerc. Will Munsour and Monte Earl filled the void Sunday, along with veteran hooker Ian Walker in the middle, he said.
The player of the game, however, was flanker Sean McGuire, who contributed one try for Aspen, Going said. “He didn’t play much last year, so he’s sort of returned to the fold and he played a blinder. He just had a fabulous game – big crunching tackles, swooping on loose balls. He looked fit and mean. And if he plays like he did Sunday, he’ll be a certainty for us.”
After two seasons on the sidelines with a knee injury, former U.S. national team player Brian Hightower, a winger, capped off his comeback with two tries Sunday. “It’s so good to have him back,” Going said. “He’s on fire. He’s psyched, I tell ya. We’ve got to throw a wet blanket on him to calm him down.”
Rookie Gents fullback Roux Van Derpoel scored two tries for Aspen. “He’s a new player trying to make an impression and he did pretty good,” Going said.
David Uavala, another Gents rookie who not only hails from Fiji but works for Fiji water, punched in one try for Aspen from the center position. “I call him the water man. He’s a silky runner,” Going said. “He looked pretty good.”
Veterans Williams and Tasi Mounga also added one try each for Aspen. “Tasi’s looking good and mean,” Going said. “A little short of breath, but he’s still running them over.”
The Gents suffered one notable setback against Denver when second-row player Gerhard Klerck sustained a partially dislocated shoulder. The towering South African was Aspen’s second-leading try scorer last season, and Going expects that he’ll be out at least two weeks. “It’s not looking good,” he said. “But we are lucky that we’ve got Fleming Trane and Mark Wisroth and Bo Buck, so it creates an opportunity for one of them to step up. Fleming finished out the game for Gerhard and did a great job.”
The Gents planned to practice Monday and Thursday before traveling to Boston on Friday afternoon.
“It takes the pressure off the players now that we’ve had a match,” Going said. “But it puts the pressure on me to see who’s going to get the job done against Boston, and I like that challenge.
“Boston’s been a superior side every year, and I want to be able to match them up front,” the coach continued. “We hear tell that they’ve got big, bulky forwards and they play a forwards-oriented type of game. So that’s the key: take them head-on in the forwards. And if we do that, I feel our backs will be able to finish them off.”
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