Gents travel west for pivotal match at Belmont Shore |

Gents travel west for pivotal match at Belmont Shore

After escaping Saturday’s snowbowl in Aspen with a 23-10 victory over perennial powerhouse and rival OMBAC, the Old Mission Beach Athletic Club of San Diego, the Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Football Club immediately turned its attention to Belmont Shore.

Aspen and Belmont Shore, both undefeated at 3-0 in USA Rugby Premier League play on the season, face off on Saturday in Long Beach, Calif.

But in reality, the five-time defending U.S. national champion Gents have been thinking about the Los Angeles-area team for some time now. That’s a departure from Aspen’s approach to games in the past: the one-game-at-a-time mentality that’s helped them amass an amazing 112-6 record at the elite tier of national rugby. But with Belmont Shore running all over worthy opponents this season, how could the Gents help it?

“Secretly, I think most of us were building up to peak against Belmont Shore, but we’ve all kept that a secret from each other because we never look beyond any team,” admitted longtime Gents coach Brian Going. “But we felt if we got over OMBAC and the others, that Belmont Shore is the team to crunch for.

“Over the last two seasons, they’ve been rebuilding and they’re starting to see the fruit, they’re starting to reap the rewards now.”

In Saturday’s game against OMBAC, the same team Aspen beat for national title No. 5 last June, Aspen took a 10-3 lead at halftime on a try from winger Bobby Lochrem and a penalty kick by Mark Williams. Aspen flanker Sean McGuire scored a try in the opening minute of the second half, before OMBAC answered with its only try of the game six minutes later. Williams, also the team’s fly half, added insurance points for Aspen with two more penalty kicks, at three points each, late in the second half.

“The best thing we did was persevere with the snow and the late plane arrival, and we won the match in a tough game. That’s good for us; we needed that to happen. It lets us take stock of where we’re at: We are beatable and we need to dig deep to stay on top,” Going said.

Judging by the score alone, Saturday’s match vs. OMBAC was one of Aspen’s closest games in recent history, win or lose.

“As I suspected, OMBAC came up here with nothing to lose and threw it all at us. It made us sit up and take notice, that’s for sure,” Going said. “We didn’t panic but the margin of safety was not as great as I would have liked. We played reasonably well, but only in patches.

“I think this is largely due to their disruptive game plan. In rugby terms, they call it spoiling tactics, and it makes for a pain in the you know what. They didn’t play constructive footie, they played destructive footie. It tries to keep the score down and it’s hard to combat.

“Mark’s kicking was superlative and the big improvement of the day came from Bobby Lochrem,” Going said. “He made some very heady decisions and was rewarded with a try.

“I thought our captain Jason Walker had an outstanding game – running with the ball in hand, he was brutal. Bo Buck had a steady game. … and Sean McGuire had a very busy game and was rewarded with a try too.”

In contrast to OMBAC, Belmont Shore plays a more wide-open style of rugby, a style also favored by Aspen.

“You use your full team to try and bridge the opposition,” Going said. “Open-style footie is what we like, it’s the best rugby to watch, and it’s the best to play too.”

In surveying the USA Rugby Premier League standing, Going said OMBAC, Belmont Shore and Aspen remain the teams to beat in the 17-team league.

“That’s still the big three,” Going said. “All three are definitely going to be in the mix for the finals.”

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