Back in friendly confines
It’s finally starting to come together for the 2003 Vail Rugby Football club.
After an off-season in which the club admittedly recruited less than in recent years, Coach Steve Doyle sees the team starting to gel.
It’s a good thing, too, as the local footballers prepare for their first home game of the 2003 campaign today at 3 p.m. against a well-tested Denver Highlanders team at the Vail Athletic Field.
Limited turnout characterized training sessions for the first month of the season. However, the Vail team still managed to put a solid 15 on the field for their first two games and notch impressive victories over Breckenridge and Glenwood Springs.
“We won our first two games, which is promising. But we made a lot of mistakes in those games,” said Coach Doyle, who is back to coach the squad after a one-year hiatus. “We have a good bunch of guys out here and we are getting a bit of a team going now. The second half against Glenwood was impressive. We got our forward momentum going and they just started coming apart.”
Vail was up just 10-7 on Glenwood at halftime of that game, but a strong second half carried them to 46-12 victory. The club is 2-0 on the season.
The team continues to grow as Thursday night’s training saw 23 players come out. A few late arrivals, along with a couple of veterans making their way back, will help speed along the gelling process.
“Having Cameron Turner and Little Will back has been huge,” said Club President Scott Marino. “Rex Pennyfather, from South Africa, is playing eight man for us and doing a good job. And we have a new scrum half, Andrew Guck from Ireland, who has been a big asset for us.”
The club recruited from abroad less this year in an effort to rely more on local players, as well as some younger players from Battle Mountain High School and Vail’s junior team, the Colts. The gamble has paid off, but was cause for concern early on when the team looked like they might be short players for their first game.
“I think we only had about eight or ten guys out for training the week before the Breckenridge game,” said Marino. “We are less experienced than we have been in the past, but I think we are having more fun too.”
A short and intense practice Thursday night, including some rucking drills, a line-out practice, a go at the scrum machine and a 15-minute team run, should have the boys ready to execute the game plan against the Highlanders. Doyle wants to keep the ball inside early, and then try to use the altitude to his team’s advantage, playing the ball wide as the game progresses.
“We want to use our running game with Center Kenny Brown,” said Doyle. “We’ll focus a lot of our attack on him and then try to run the big forwards off of him at the breakdown.”
Unfortunately, the team will have two key players out this weekend, as prop Will Mansour is out of town and fly half Brian Dalrymple is nursing a rib injury from the Glenwood game.
“We have two stalwarts of the club missing this weekend,” said Doyle. “It’s good, though, for the other guys to have to step up and see how they play without them.”
Doyle looks for some of the up-and-coming players to pick up the slack with the two old boys out. Brandon Farmer and Ben Crook were two players Doyle mentioned that “have been playing well and coming along,” and will have to continue to do so to ensure a Vail victory Saturday.
The club hopes the sidelines will be packed for its first home contest and expects to see former players, longtime fans and supporters and a few younger faces in the crowd, as the Vail Rugby Club’s family had some new additions this off season.
“Chris Chantler and his wife Heather and Cameron Turner and his wife Christina have both just had baby boys,” said Marino. “Also, Greg Tarpy and his wife Sue have had their second baby girl, and Tim Parker and his wife Laura have added a new baby girl. So, we are hoping to see a little of that family atmosphere out there.”
Turner, who will play fly half for the injured Dalrymple this weekend, tried to sit out this year with his family’s new arrival, but admits his own natural gifts and a genuine love of the game forced him back to the team.
“I came back out because I have a god-given talent to play rugby,” says Turner, only half joking. “But seriously, once the season starts and the blood starts to simmer, you want to come out and play.”
As for the game this weekend, Turner has his own ideas as to how the game will play out.
“I think we will try to do the simple stuff early and run a few of the big fellas up into them,” said Turner. “Once we soften them up a little bit, it will be time for the thinking guys in the backs to make some spaces out there. I will be looking for some of the guys to come off of me at pace because I no longer have any.”
Marino also took time to say a big thank you to the club’s sponsors, who make each season possible.
“This year we have another great group of sponsors,” says Marino. “We have the Paint Bucket for their third year and Meadow Mountain Plumbing for their second year. We have Garfinkel’s and Coors as sponsors again. And, we have David Honda’s Vail Sport’s Medicine Clinic for the first time, who will be providing a trainer and all the training equipment for every game this season.”
On another note, the team has procured the services of longtime-local-celebrity-grill-master Bob “Buck” Burns to run the grill. Those who know Buck, know that there will be plenty of burgers and dogs for everyone, and maybe even a few beers for those interested.
Game time is three o’clock today, and the forecast looks good for an afternoon of fun, sun and rugby on the home pitch.