Lashing out after loss, Gents put up 90
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Ten minutes never passed without the Gents scoring one of 14 tries on Saturday in a 90-8 trouncing of the Olympic Club Old Blues at Rio Grande Park in Aspen.
No less than a minute passed after the game before vice captain Isaac Mbereko was playing down the blowout over the winless 0-6 San Francisco-based ruggers.
“Games like this are deceiving, you see,” he said. “It’s good for the confidence, but it’s always dicey with games where you’re winning by 90 points. You never want to become overconfident.”
Mbereko ran in Aspen’s first try of the day in the fifth minute, slashing untouched through traffic from about 25 meters out. Though Mbereko would leave the field after the try with a pulled hamstring, the play served to ignite the Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Football Club machine for its highest output of the season. And following last Saturday’s 21-8 loss to Belmont Shore in Long Beach, Calif. – the five-time defending U.S. national champion’s first loss in more than a year – Aspen needed it.
“We needed to win big today, and play well to win big,” said coach Brian Going. “Individually, there were some brilliant performances; collectively, we made a lot of handling mistakes and forced passes. But you’ve got to be happy with 80 odd points, I think.”
Aspen, now 4-1, has secured a berth in the USA Rugby Premier League playoffs. A win this Saturday at Boston will guarantee Aspen the No. 4 seed in the eight-team field, as well as a home game in the first round on May 18. Aspen is likely to travel should they advance. Regardless of whether the Gents make it back to the U.S. national championship finals in the quest a No. 6 title, the game will be played here in Aspen on June 8.
“We’ve set ourselves another commitment. We got a little lackadaisical running into last week’s match – we thought we were fired up for it and we weren’t,” said Aspen captain Jason Walker. “Now we’ve got to set our sites on a new horizon: obviously June the eighth here. It’s an exciting time. From here on out, we’re looking forward to it.”
Flanker Dougald Gillies and backs Damien Barr, Rata Going, Paddy Shaw and David Yavala all scored tries for Aspen in the first half. Making his first start at the pivotal scrum-half position, Shaw also handled the kicking duties and was good on his first six attempts for the two-point after-try conversions, including one from the south sideline that one spectator deemed “impossible.”
The Old Blues managed their only try in the 27th minute, after a driving forward pack pushed captain Sean Roy over the line. Andy Tamajo rounded out the Old Blues scoring with a three-point penalty kick five minutes into the second half.
The parade of backs continued for Aspen in the second half, with winger Bobby Lochrem leading off this time with the first of two tries. Going got another try, and so did Yavala and Barr. Jason Walker, Juan Grobler and Karl Siteine, making his first start for Aspen this season, all scored once. Dean Walsh added six points on three after-try conversions.
At times, the Gents demonstrated the seemless and intelligent play that makes them the team to beat in the United States. “They’re really smart players,” said Old Blues coach Alan Petty. However, Aspen showed no signs of celebration in racking up the 90 points (with the exception of a Siteine belly-flop in front of fans in the west try zone that brought the tally to 81), a modest mood that continued even after the final whistle.
“That’s signs of the Gentlemen knowing that it wasn’t a complete effort, that we made a lot of mistakes,” coach Going said. “They’ve already recognized that, and it’s a good sign to me.”
Going also showcased a new-look lineup, including Paddy Shaw and Mark Wisroth in the second row. For both players, Saturday served as their A-side debut.
“The new guys definitely stepped up, in particular our scrum-half Paddy. That’s his first start and it was a big one. He’s been biding his time in the wings, and he had his opportunity today and he grabbed it,” Going said. “And we had a good combination of forward and back play, like Mark Wisroth. He had a big game and it’s his first encounter as well. When you see the ball moving through 15 guys, you’ve got to be pretty happy about that.
“I have shaken things up a bit, but the new guys did stick their hands up well and truly and said have another look at me. And the old guys have got to be ready for opposition,” Going continued.
Also Saturday, Belmont Shore topped Boston 40-7 in Boston. Belmont Shore finished its regular season at 6-0, to lock up the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, while Boston is out of the postseason picture at 1-4.
“Teams like that can always be dangerous,” said Mbereko. “They’re looking for the big upset; they’re not in the playoffs and they’re looking to cause some sort of ruckus because it’s their championship. We’ve got to come out like we did today and not let anything slip.
“We’re really trying to get some kind of pattern going and just get the confidence up. Guys have been down, and we want to get the guys believing again. This was a good stepping stone for that,” he continued. “Obviously, [Coach Going] is trying to get some combinations together, trying to see if we really needed to change things up and to see how a bit of a shake up would changes guys’ attitudes. And it worked. Guys are now looking hungry, and I think it will help down the stretch.”
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