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Gents’ tournament opener canceled

Tim Mutrie

In a decision that seems to impugn the integrity of the USA Rugby Super League, the Gentlemen of Aspen’s playoff opener scheduled for Saturday at Rio Grande Park has been canceled.

Instead, the No. 1-seeded Gents, undefeated at 7-0 during the regular season, will open the playoffs in the semifinal round on June 5 in Aspen.

The cancellation comes after at least three Super League teams were disqualified for the season recently for breaking league rules, according to Mick Melrose, head coach of the Gents. The disqualified teams include the Denver Barbarians, Old Puget Sound Beach of Washington and Philly-Whitmarsh, said Melrose. The coach was unclear about the specific reasons for the banishments, but thought it pertained to player-eligibility issues.

The disqualifications served to propel the dismal Washington (D.C.) Rugby Football Club into playoff contention. Initially slotted to face Aspen, Washington (1-6) ranks among the worst clubs of the 16-team USA Rugby Super League.

But on Wednesday, with a 9-7 vote by all the Super League teams, the league decided against spending an estimated $15,000 to finance Washington’s trip to Aspen for the match on Saturday.

Flying in the face of the old adage, “That’s why you play the games,” the league opted to award Aspen with a bye to the final four, sparing the cost and a likely slaughter of Washington.

But Melrose, for one, was upset with the decision. “I was in shock to be honest,” he said Wednesday night.

Further complicating matters, according to a playoff bracket posted on http://www.usarugbysuperleague.com on Wednesday, the New York Athletic Club (6-1) has also been awarded an apparent bye in the first round. So instead of the usual bracket of eight teams, only six teams are listed.

According to that bracket, Aspen, the winner of six consecutive national tiles from 1997-2002, will face the winner of Saturday’s Belmont Shore (5-2) vs. OMBAC (5-2) quarterfinal match in California.

On the other side of the bracket, San Francisco-Golden Gate (7-0) faces the Dallas Harlequins (3-3-1) on Saturday in California for the right to play NYAC in the other semifinal on June 5.

It’s the first time in Super League history that the league has canceled a playoff game, according to Gents officials.

For Aspen, the cancellation will translate into nearly one month off between Super League games. (Aspen beat OMBAC in the regular-season finale May 8).

Asked whether the turn of events diminishes the integrity of the league and the playoff system, in place since the Super League was founded seven seasons ago, Melrose replied:

“I have to agree. Why did we go through the last several weeks? It’s not a good thing.”

Meanwhile on Wednesday, the Gents scrambled to arrange a scrimmage with the Denver Barbarians, the team that was originally slotted to face Aspen in the first round before being disqualified.

“We’re trying to make it happen this weekend,” Melrose said. “If we can’t, we’ll try and organize something for next weekend.”

Culley moved to rehab center in Atlanta

Pat Culley, the Gents player who suffered a severe spinal-cord injury during a May 1 match at Boston, has been transferred to a spinal-cord rehabilitation center in Atlanta.

Culley, 25, a rookie on the Gents’ Super League team, was paralyzed from the chest down after an awkward collision in Boston. Initially, he was treated at Brigham and Women’s hospital in Boston.

Since the injury, Culley contracted pneumonia and E. Coli infection. Coach Melrose said Wednesday that he was making minor improvements.

“He’s getting over his infections and pneumonia and feeling a bit better,” said Melrose. “I spoke to him the other day and his spirits are good. He’s starting to do some things for himself that he hadn’t been able to since the accident, so that’s good. He’s doing as well as can be expected.”

Culley fractured a vertebrae and herniated a disk in his neck, causing severe damage to his spinal cord.

“He’s doing some more things with his arms that he hadn’t been able to do; he was feeding himself the other day and that made him pretty happy,” the coach said.

“There haven’t been significant changes, but minor improvements in certain areas.”

To help Culley and his family with medical expenses, an account has been established at Alpine Bank in Aspen. Melrose said the team is planning additional fund-raising efforts, though he was not ready to announce any firm plans on Wednesday.


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