Gents sevens team wins qualifying tourney
If there’s anything to be salvaged from the Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Football Club’s horrific loss to Vail Saturday at Wagner Park, it’s that another team of Gents met with success at a tournament in Oklahoma City on the same day.In Aspen, less than a month after capturing a sixth straight USA Rugby National Championship on the same field, a Gents team that featured few faces from the national championship side was soundly marched off the field by Vail 40-21. Beating Aspen at the point of contact, and captilizing on field position and timely possession, Vail posted a 35-0 lead in the first half and cruised to victory.As the final moments ticked off the clock, Vail, a summer club team that does not compete at the elite national level, began celebrating like Super Bowl champions. The triumph was trumpeted in Sunday’s edition of The Vail Daily – “Vail RFC shocks Aspen” (see related story) – and players gushed over beating the mighty, albeit depleted, Aspen.Despite the loss, Aspen remains the most decorated club in U.S. rugby history. However, the Gents have yet to have success in the sevens game of rugby, primarily because they haven’t tried before until now. In regular rugby, 15 players make up each side, and halfs are 40 minutes. In sevens, only seven players make up each team and halfs are just seven minutes. Sevens is played on a standard-sized field, and always in tournament format, and the regular rules apply.Enter project Oklahoma City: a squad of ten Gents travelled to Oklahoma University for Saturday’s qualifying tournament for the Western Rugby Sevens Championships, slated for July 20 in Denver. And in a showing more befitting of the Gentlemen, Aspen won all five of its matches to win the tourney and secure a berth in the Western Championship; the top two teams there advance to the 16-team U.S. Rugby Sevens Championship scheduled for next month in Pennsylvannia.As a team, Aspen may not have much experience in sevens, but individually, three of the Gents players have international caps on their resumes, including Andy Kotoa (U.S.), Duncan Gillies (Australia) and Isaac Mbereko (Zimbabwe).Aspen topped OU’s B-side in the final, averaged 25 to 30 points a game and allowed just one try in five tourney matches.”Everything went according to plan,” said Mbereko, who has five national titles with Aspen’s 15s team. “We built on things that we worked on in practice, so it’s a good stepping stone.”Gents regulars Alec Parker, Karl Siteine, Rata Going, John Buscher, Tyson Meek, Simon Dogbe and Dean Walsh rounded out the team.”The experience factor helped us out a lot,” added Katoa, “just the knowledge of the game. With sevens, a lot of it is skill, but it’s more about the mental aspect of the game. One mistake and they’re gone, and it’s hard to recover. In 15s, you make a mistake and there’s usually someone to make up for it. But in sevens, one mistake can be costly.”Success at the Western Championships, Kotoa and Mbereko agreed, is contingent on limiting mistakes and captilizing on opportunities.”There’s going to be some very good competition at the Westerns,” Kotoa said, “some teams that only play sevens. We’ll be training for the next two weeks working on combinations, looking at what we need to do to compete at that highest level.”The goal is a berth in the U.S. Rugby Sevens Championships and, ultimately, Aspen’s first U.S. sevens title.”A lot of guys are making sacrifices to make it happen, but we’ve got a lot of support from the club,” Kotoa said.As for the news awaiting the triumphant Gents upon their return to Aspen Saturday night, Mbereko spoke in hushed tones.”It was good for sevens, but I hear things went the other way here against Vail,” he said. “It was pretty bad, wasn’t it?”
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