Vail R.F.C’s 16-year wait over
BRECKENRIDGE – Forget about the Blue and White’s 55-5 loss to Aspen earlier this year. Forget about the Vail Rugby Football Club’s last victory against the Gents on July 6, 2002, only its second since 1995. And forget about Vail’s last Ski Town Tournament title in 1990.The Blue and White wrote a new page in their history Sunday when they walked off the pitch with a 3-0 win over the Gents to take the Ski Town title.”It feels good. I’ve got it in my heart,” said James Worrell, whose kick earned him the Man of the Match.Vail, playing with a 3-0 lead, and the wind in its face for the second half, fended off several late Aspen pushes that reached Vail’s 22-meter mark. “As a team, we wanted to win it more than Aspen did,” said player/coach Steve MacKinnon. “We had pride. We had passion and we came out on top.”
Midway through the first half, Vail opted to kick for points off an Aspen penalty. After the score, both teams did a lot of kicking, while the Vail forward pack gave its back line several good balls.Not againAt halftime, Blue and White veterans emphasized that they had led Aspen deep into matches before, only to see those leads slip away.Aspen maintained the advantage in possession in the second half, but Vail’s forward pack wheeled and won key scrums deep in its own zone. On several Aspen lineouts, captain Brandon McDonald, stole the ball in the channel.”Brandon in the lineouts got a sold platform (for us) to boot out of our own zone,” Worrell said. “I thought it was going to be a high scoring game. It was a bit of a slow game. It was scrum, scrum, scrum, but we held out in the end.”After two consecutive Aspen lineouts that didn’t amount to much, the ref blew the final whistle, and the Vail claimed the coveted championship trophy.”(The win) was a little bit sweeter that it was that close,” MacKinnon said.
“I knew it was going to be a tight game,” said Aspen coach Steve Blair, who coached Vail last year. “If we would have had some decent set-feed balls, we could have used it wide. But we never got any control of the ball up front.”You know, Vail competed really well up front and we didn’t deserve to win in the end. We made a lot of mistakes in the second half and missed a few opportunities. If you don’t take your chances, you don’t win matches. That’s what happens.”MacKinnon was happy with how Vail’s front eight hung tough in the final minutes.”Our forwards really stepped up to the mark after a tight showing against Steamboat (in the semifinals),” MacKinnon said. “We had 25 guys over the weekend, and every single one stepped up to the mark at different times, and I can’t really ask more from them.”Down until the endThe Blue and White’s day nearly ended before they had the chance to play Aspen. In the morning’s semifinal matchup, Vail needed two late tries and conversions to erase a 12-0 deficit against Steamboat Springs.
Steamboat took advantage of a sluggish Vail side in the first half to score two tries. It took a few minutes into the second frame for Vail finally to gain some cohesion. With 14 men on the field (a Vail forward was issued a yellow card), the Blue and White marched down the field and Tom Vallentine off-loaded the ball to MacKinnon, who took it in for a try.”I scored a suspect try, but the referee gave it, and that’s all that matters,” said MacKinnon, who leads the team with seven scores on the year.After Steamboat missed a kick for points, Vail mounted another long drive down the pitch. Steamboat was penalized several times inside its own 22, but Vail had trouble handling the ball on the restarts. In the 40th minute of play (the matches had two 20-minute halves), Trefor Davies took the ball, buried his shoulder into a few opponents and touched the ball down in Steamboat’s try zone. Following Worrell’s conversion that pushed Vail ahead for the first time all game, the ref signaled that time had expired.”The feeling after Steamboat was, ‘Oh God, what is Aspen going to do to us,'” MacKinnon said.Double SteveAs if there weren’t enough history between the two teams in Sunday’s final, there was a little extra between the two coaches.
“Steve Blair was my coach back home in Scotland,” MacKinnon said. “And to get one over him is sweeter than life itself. He’s a bit of a mentor. He’s taught me everything I know about the game. He was one of the best coaches I’ve ever had.” Blair, who commended MacKinnon on the win, was in a tough position coaching the Ski Town finals.”I’m always pegged in the middle,” Blair said. “I can’t win in this situation. I coached Vail (last year), and now I’m coaching Aspen. You’ve just got to take it on the chin and make sure you get it right for the next time.” Vail is at Glenwood Saturday and the Blue and White will host the Gents Aug. 26.”I’m sure they’ll get a few backs and forwards out for the match in August, but you know we’ll look forward with (Sunday’s win) and go into it with a lot of confidence,” MacKinnon said.Vail, Colorado