Showtime: Aspen comes to town
VAIL – Rugby players know a lot of four-letter words.One of them is “beer.” There are some others which cannot be mentioned in a family-oriented newspaper like the Vail Daily.But for the Vail Rugby Football Club, there’s also a five-letter word – Aspen.The archrival Gents pay a visit today for their annual fixture at the Vail Athletic Field at 3 p.m., and for the Blue and White this is always the game of the year.
“It’s always a tough game,” Vail captain Will Mansour said. “It’s something we can measure ourselves to. You always try to measure yourself to the top teams in the area. You just try to bring it all together.”That will be no easy task against Aspen. The Gentlemen are the decided favorites in this contest. Vail has only beaten the Gents twice in the last seven years – 26-23 in 1999 and 40-21 in 2002. Otherwise, it’s been all Aspen.Such was the case July 3 down in Pitkin County earlier this year when Aspen hammered Vail, 35-24. The score was not as close as it indicates. The Gentlemen led, 35-0, at the half, and the Blue and White essentially scored some consolation tries in the final 40 minutes.”The game was won by halftime,” player/coach Greg Tarpey said. “We defended badly. I think intimidation plays a factor, especially the first time you play them with the new guys. They tend to watch more than play. That’s the key. We’ve got to close up the channels between flyhalf and the pack. We have a defensive strategy that we’ve come up with to try to stop them from getting wide.”And, that’s because if Aspen can get it out wide to its backline, it’s curtains for the opposition. Preventing the Gentlemen from getting ball out of the pack and wrapping up Aspen’s backs will be key today,
“I always have the feeling that you can’t run without legs,” Tarpey said. “You can’t play rugby if you don’t have the ball. You keep the ball away from them and you tackle them. It doesn’t matter who you are.”The battle up front will be critical as well. Vail usually gives away a stone or two against all its opponents. So, the Blue and White will have to win scrums and lineouts with creativity and cunning. Along those lines, Brandon “Little Farmer” McDonald is recovering from salmonella poisoning. His healthy return will be a boon on lineouts as well as the play of Blue and White veteran Phil Bennett.”Hopefully, we can keep it pretty tight and not run the ball too far from the set plays,” said Mansour, who leads the pack. “You just got to have guys like Barry (Powell) and Phil Bennett bring their A-game. Hopefully, Little Farmer will come back and play like he’s been playing. You just got to hope that people rise to the occasion. That’s what it comes down to. They’re bigger.”In its favor, Vail will be playing on its home pitch, where it is undefeated (4-0) this season. And, the Blue and White would appreciate a strong showing of local support for today’s match.
“It’s the one time of the year that we actually get a big crowd out here,” Tarpey said. “All the Old Boys come out. If you’re going to come to one game this year, and you like rugby, you’re going to come watch us play Aspen. I think most of the guys know that.”Though Aspen is definitely the better team on paper, as ESPN’s Chris Berman always says, “That’s why they play the games.” Vail beat the Gents two years ago and would love nothing more than to do it again today.”It’s one of the best feelings you can have walking off the field, knowing that you’ve played a very good side and everyone has had to have played their very best,” Mansour said. “When people walk off after playing a very good game, there’s just a general atmosphere of good feeling.”Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 614, or firstname.lastname@example.org.