New-look Gents have same old goal
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Even without the veteran core that helped deliver the last seven Aspen Ruggerfest Men’s Open division championships, the Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Football Club can hardly be considered an underdog this weekend.
After all, in the 36-year history of the tournament, the Gents have won a total of 14 titles, including the last seven – records both.
But a Gents Ruggerfest team without the likes of Mark Williams, Ian Walker, Bo Buck and Dougald Gillies (all of whom will be playing with the Gents’ 35-and-over Old Boys side), among others, remains an unknown quantity at Ruggerfest.
It’s not that a new, younger team can’t carry on the legacy, it’s just they haven’t had to yet on their own.
“We’ve got a good core,” said Aspen coach Lance Sigley, a former Gents player of the last nine years. “We’re just trying to enlighten the younger guys about what it’s like to play for Aspen, and what it means to play for Aspen.”
Veterans not included in Aspen’s Open division roster include the four, aforementioned “retired” vets, as well as Jason Walker, Brian Hightower, Rata Going, Isaac Mbereko and Monte Earl – all prominent players on the U.S. national championship teams that won six straight titles until the streak was broken in the U.S. championship semifinals last spring.
And current U.S. National Team players, and Gentlemen, Gerhard Klerck and Alec Parker, who depart for the rugby World Cup in Australia a week from Saturday, are listed as “unlikely” for the tourney (due to possible exposure to injury that would bar them from rugby’s Super Bowl event).
“I think a lot of people may look at the Old Boys team and think it’s the Aspen A side – because those are the faces people will recognize,” Sigley said.
“But we’re carrying on how we’ve always played which is an open style of game. We’re still an attacking team. We’ve lost players but we’re not going to change our game plan or style because of that. We’ll just need our younger players to step up and play like the older fellows did, and they’ve shown they can do that. They just need to be consistent.”
Tasi Mounga, one of the most punishing players to put on an Aspen uniform, will captain the Aspen side for the first time this weekend, Sigley said. And Mounga, a former U.S. National Team player himself, is no stranger to Ruggerfest – or Super League or U.S. national championship or World Cup-caliber rugby.
“We’re very, very happy Tasi’s in there as an anchor for us,” Sigley said of his flanker. “He’s capable of taking over a game at any moment.”
Dean Walsh, who broke his jaw five months ago in a Super League match against the New York Athletic Club, is back at flyhalf for Aspen, and he will also handle the kicking duties, Sigley said.
Additionally, David Yavala, Chris Morrow and Juan Grobler all bring Super League and Ruggerfest experience to Aspen’s back line.
Jason Gillam, who had moved to San Francisco, is back in town this weekend and will be slotted in opposite Mounga at flanker – a position he held on several of Aspen’s U.S. national championship teams.
“Those are basically the guys that have been around for a while,” Sigley said. “It’s the other guys that’ll be stepping up.”
“We’ve got the talent,” said Mark Williams at practice last night. “The question mark is experience. There’s going to be a lot of young guys out there.”
Backs Simon Dogbe and Travis Butler fall into that category. But Dogbe, one of Aspen’s leading scorers in the summer season, will be given an opportunity to carry on his try-scoring ways this weekend.
Only two other Super League teams are in the 12-team Men’s Open division this year – the Kansas City Blues and the Denver Barbarians. But Sigley says Aspen is not overlooking anyone at this point, especially Boulder and the Texas Select team.
“It’s a good-looking field,” said Sigley. “Obviously the two Super League teams will be gunning for us, but we can’t overlook Boulder – they’ve beaten us once this year already. And there’s the Texas Select side, which I believe is made up of a couple of Super League teams, so we’ll be taking notice of them, too.”
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