Life doesn’t get Gents down
Aspen beat Life to extend life.In another rout, the Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Football Club topped Life University 63-29 in the first round of the USA Rugby Premier League playoffs Saturday at Aspen’s Rio Grande Park.For the third straight game since their only loss this season, the Gents, now 6-1, exploded for more than 60 points to end No. 6 Life’s season. The No. 4 seed Gents now advance to the final four of the playoffs in their quest for a sixth straight U.S. National Championship. Aspen will travel to face No. 2 New York Old Blue in the semifinals on June 1. (See playoff bracket on page 19-A.)”There’s a sense of calm within the whole squad right now: our confidence is back and I think it showed,” Aspen captain and eight-man Jason Walker said.Aspen scored its first four tries on lineout plays against the Marietta, Ga., ruggers. The forward pack demonstrated its dominance early and helped Aspen build a 27-10 lead at halftime. Life, however, kept the game close in the early going by scoring two tries in the first 20 minutes that cut Aspen’s advantage to 12-10 at that point.Aspen cemented the victory with three tries in the first 15 minutes of the second half, including a 100-meter plus play that passed through at least six pairs of hands. Originating with fullback Chris Morrow in Aspen’s own try zone, the ball moved fluidly out the line and into flanker Tasi Mounga’s hands for a try that lifted Aspen to a comfortable 48-10 advantage.”When everyone gets involved, it’s satisfying,” said Aspen’s Isaac Mbereko, the scrum half and vice captain. “Everyone played hard, and you can see that everyone put their heart into it.”If you practice stuff during the week and you do it on the field, like we did today, it’s pleasing for everyone involved. You can see the fruits, and I’m sure the coach is happy. … We had a 100-meter try – it doesn’t get better than that.”Making his first start of the season, Aspen prop Wayne Rogers scored the Gents’ first try on a lineout play in the 7th minute. In another lineout near the Life try zone in the 14th minute, Mbereko flipped a pass out the line where Bobby Lochrem found room to slash up the middle for the second try. Life then rallied back with tries from Brad Free and Anton Smuts in the 17th and 18th minutes, respectively, to cut the deficit to 12-10.Hooker Karl Siteine lifted Aspen to a 17-10 lead in the 20th minute, and fly half and kicker Mark Williams added 3 points on a penalty kick in the 29th. Rata Going, the coach’s son, ran in a try just before halftime on another lineout play.”Our forwards took it to ’em, and that’s what I really wanted,” said Aspen coach Brian Going. “When you analyze it, I think the forward dominance was there and it meant our backs could function – although not as fluent as I wanted, but still pretty good.”Every team you play is coming out to spoil your pattern, and [Life] did that to us in patches today. But at the end of it all, we ran in some pretty nice tries.”Wing Brian Hightower scored a try in the 45th minute after the break, and Gerhard Klerck punched in another try stemming from a set-piece lineout in the 51st to go up 41-10.”Life’s defense on the lineout was pretty weak, and our drives seemed to work pretty well so we kept doing it,” said Klerck. “It has always been a golden attack point for us.”After Mounga capped off the 100-meter play with a try in the 55th, Life’s Shaka Hatcher (one of three former Gents playing for Life) took advantage of a mishandled ball in the Aspen zone for a try in the 58th, with a conversion from Free, to cut the deficit to 48-17.Aspen answered with a Morrow try in the 60th and a Dougald Gillies try in the 66th to bring the total to 63, with a conversion from Paddy Shaw. Life added two more tries late, by Smuts and Austin Dacaney with a conversion from Patrick Bell, to make 29.”I knew they’d be tough. I think we let them in for a couple of soft tries toward the end, but when you’re rattling up that many points, you’re gonna weaken in some department,” coach Going said. “So while I’m never happy to see a soft try, that’s the way it was.”Life finished its season the same way it did last year: losing to Aspen in the playoffs.”We continued to make mistakes, and Aspen, the side that they are, just capitalized on that,” said Life coach Mel Smith. “There’s no excuses from us. Aspen’s a top side.”Aspen and Life traded punches in the final minutes of the game, an altercation that erupted when a Life player head-butted Rata Going as they exchanged words face-to-face. Going responded in kind with a right-left combination that floored the unidentified Life player, sparking a brief brawl. Going was sent off the field with a 10-minute penalty, while the Life player went unpunished because the referee couldn’t single him out.”I don’t like head-butting,” coach Going said. “Somebody head-butted Rata, and he retaliated with a left and right hook combination which would have done Muhammad Ali pretty proud I think. Head butts are nasty; punches are a part of the game in my opinion, so it’s no big deal.”Sporting a fresh bump on his nose, Rata Going conceded, “I shouldn’t have retaliated,” but his teammates were supportive across the board.”We’re not a team that backs down,” said Walker. “We try to stay away from that – we are Gentlemen – but that sort of thing does happen, and we hate to see it in front of our home crowd.”Aspen’s next opponent, New York Old Blue, beat No. 7 Kansas City Blue 47-24 on Saturday to advance to the semifinals. On the other side of the eight-team bracket, No. 1 Belmont Shore advanced over the Dallas Harlequins 42-23 and No. 5 OBMAC upset No. 3 Golden Gate of San Francisco 16-15.”We haven’t lost to [New York] before, but they’re a good side,” Walker said. “But we’ll focus on our game plan, we won’t worry about them.”We’re on a roll right now. I think the week off is going to be good for the team to get rid of those minor injuries, and we’ll come in super-charged for the New York game.”
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