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No escape for New York vs. Gents

Tim Mutrie
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The six-time defending U.S. national champion Gentlemen of Aspen clinched a home game for 2003 national tourney with a 67-5 win over the New York Athletic Club Saturday at Rio Grande Park in Aspen.

Aspen, the heavy favorite Saturday, scored a total of 11 tries to New York’s one, including six in the first half as the Gents stormed to a 36-5 lead.

The blowout followed last Saturday’s tie with the Dallas Harlequins in Texas, an upsetting result that seemed to put a charge into the Gents on Saturday.

“The guys rallied and showed some of the footie we’re capable of,” said longtime Aspen coach Brian Going. “Some of the guys who have been playing OK really elevated their play today.”

In the opening minutes, however, Aspen suffered a major setback when Dean Walsh sustained a broken jaw. Walsh, Aspen’s starting flyhalf and kicker, had scored Aspen’s first try in the first minute and converted the 2-point conversion as well. Walsh was taken to Aspen Valley Hospital for treatment.

“He was looking real good, too,” Going said.

Walsh also converted Aspen’s second try of the day, courtesy of forward Tasi Mounga, who along with Alec Parker rejoined the Gents last week after a stint with the U.S. National Team.

“It’s always like this, it seems. You gain one, you lose one,” sighed Going.

Back Andy Kotoa scored the next two tries for Aspen, and backmates Hayden Taylor and Isaac Mberko scored the fifth and sixth of the match to give Aspen the commanding lead at halftime.

“Andy Kotoa played a tremendous match,” Going said, “and Sean Maguire and Alec Parker were the two standout forwards.”

Parker figured into the try-scoring in the second half, and brought his usual intensity from start to finish.

“Alec’s so gifted and relentless and humble, he lifts the team morale,” Going said.

Jason Walker, David Yavala, Rob Dawe and Chris Morrow also scored tries for Aspen, and Taylor added eight more points on four conversions while kicking in place of Walsh.

Aspen, now 5-1-1 in USA Rugby Super League play, is the likely No. 4 seed in the eight-team national tournament.

OMBAC, the Old Mission Beach Athletic Club of San Diego, and Belmont Shore of Long Beach, Calif., are the likely top two seeds. OMBAC improved to a league-best 7-0 on Saturday, while Belmont Shore, at 6-0, was scheduled to play Sunday vs. the winless Washington club. A score was not available last night.

The Chicago Lions likely clinched the No. 3 seed with a 6-1 record.

In the playoffs, the higher seed hosts in the quarterfinals and semifinals. For Aspen, that means a home game on May 17 for the first-round quarterfinals.

“This win gives us a good feeling, but not good enough,” said Going. “Isaac [Mbereko] touched on it in our team talk, and that’s that we’re not ready. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Aspen, the most dominant rugby club in modern U.S. history, is already the first six-peat U.S. national champions.

But, as one of the Gents said after winning No. 6 last June at Wagner Park in Aspen, “Seven sounds better than six.”

“We’ve had a couple of really hard games, OMBAC and Dallas, and we didn’t play quite like we wanted to,” said Mbereko, who joined the Gents following the first national title in 1998.

“We’re just not ready yet and we’ve got to get there. We’re hoping to build from this weekend and I think everyone’s on the same page.”


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