Vail R.F.C. ready for title defense |

Vail R.F.C. ready for title defense

SPT Vail Rugby PU 6-7-07

VAIL ” And now for something completely different.

The Vail Rugby Football Club opens its season as the team to beat in the Mountain League in 2007, as opposed to Aspen. And the defending league and Ski Town champions’ biggest challenge to repeating could be Steamboat Springs, Saturday’s 3 p.m. guests at the Vail Athletic Field for the opener.

The Vail R.F.C. is still wearing blue and white, although there’s a bit of change to its look as well.

All in all, it’s definitely a different outlook for 2007 than in years past.

“Ask any heavyweight boxer. Winning the title is one thing. You’re the man to beat,” Vail coach Steve MacKinnon said. “It’s all guns blazing when you play Vail. It used to be all guns blazing when you played Aspen. Aspen will be looking to get one over us this year. Steamboat, we beat them twice (sic) both in the last minute, so they’ll be looking to get one from us. They’ll be more determined than ever.”

“It provides a new motivation to get out there and keep playing, Vail veteran Will Mansour said. “At first, you’re motivated always to beat Aspen and keep up with your streaks over Glenwood and Breckenridge. Now you have something to defend,”

Meet the team

Vail seemingly started slowly with a 27-23 win against Steamboat Springs in last year’s opener. Little did the Blue and White know then that wins over Steamboat would be no easy chore. Vail beat its northern rivals three times in all ” by a total of nine points.

Another big change was that after a 55-5 thrashing at Aspen, Vail took control of its archrival. The Blue and White beat the Gents, 3-0, at Breckenridge to win their first Ski Town title since 1990.

It turned out not to be a fluke. Vail thrashed Aspen, 31-5, at home in late August to put an exclamation point on one of the best years in recent memory for the Blue and White.

“We won’t settle for anything less this year,” MacKinnon said. “We’re going for the whole thing.”

The Kenyan trio of winger Bernard Njorogg, center Gibson Weru and hooker Tony Matori is back. The team has two new imports from South Africa in Adrian Neathling and Jack Mohr who should bolster the side’s front pack.

Throw in stalwarts like the venerable Phil Bennett, the loquacious Greg Tarpey, Mansour, Brandon MacDonald, Wolfgang Opel and Brian Dalrymple, and Vail looks to be formidable.

“Rugby’s rugby,” said newcomer Robert Madden who will be splitting time between fly half and fullback. “It’s like a (fraternity). You learn each other’s names and you learn how to play with each other. There’s always that bond between each other.”

While Vail’s ranks are likely to fill out in the next few weeks, the Blue and White also includes Adam Sharp, Steve Hackling, Garth Bint, Andrew Legge, Joel Migchelbrink, Josh Caskey, Ed Lewandowski, Dave Wieder. Buddy Butterbaugh, Leif Gibson, Enos Otieno and Ian Cropp.

Breakdown balls

Vail’s blue and white uniforms have changed also. The Famous Grouse, which also adorns the front the front of the shirts worn by the Scottish National Team, is now a team sponsor. Given that MacKinnon is a Scot through and through, this is not a coincidence. “It’s a little bigger than years past,” Mansour joked. “Pilsner Urquell had a 4-inch patch. This is bigger.” … None other than Fred Waititi heads up Aspen this year, replacing Steve Blair. Vail and Aspen meet in Pitkin County June 30 and in Eagle County Aug. 25. … Ski Town is at Steamboat Springs this year.

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 748-2934 or

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