Vail takes another one from Aspen
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL ” The familiar blue and white jerseys of Vail lined up against the all-too familiar black and red of Aspen Saturday in Vail.
And that’s about where the similarities to any regular Vail and Aspen rugby match ended.
This year there was no title at stake. Both teams had to scramble to find numbers. Freddy Waititi ” the former Vail player and coach ” coached and played for the Gents Saturday.
And Vail player/coach Steve MacKinnon won his third straight game against Aspen.
Even without the fanfare of the Mountain League trophy in waiting ” Steamboat won is last week with a victory over Vail ” the two squads came together for another classic match.
“It’s always hard to motivate yourself when there’s no title at stake,” MacKinnon said. “But we want to beat each other. It’s a pride thing and a rivalry at stake.”
Vail scored two second-half tries to come from behind and beat Aspen, 17-14.
“I’m sure they’re still way ahead of us in terms of wins and losses, but we’re catching up,” said MacKinnon, who scored early in the second half.
Waititi never thought he’d be wearing a Gents jersey with his opposite number in Blue and White, but the Aspen coach played a full 80 minutes.
“That’s the first time I played against Vail. I didn’t want to, but we were struggling for players. Up until this morning, I didn’t even know if we’d have a team. I had to bring my boots along,” Waititi said. “I’ve gotta give credit to the guys who did come ” it was a pretty good run. They stuck to it.”
Aspen took a 14-7 lead into halftime, but Vail’s forward pack controlled the tempo well for the final 40 minutes.
“We knew our strengths and we played to them,” MacKinnon said. “They had strong backs and we had strong forwards. It was similar to the Glenwood game ” we kept the ball away from (the backs) as much as we could. Aspen has a really good back row ” their No. 7 is a great player.”
Waititi thought his team worked hard, but didn’t quite string it all together.
“To be fair, we looked like a team that didn’t train together. We also played against a team that played pretty well.”
A few minutes into the match, Vail’s Enos Otieno put the Blue and White on the board with a try off a lineout drive. The Vail pack moved about 10 meters, with players rolling off the side and coming back on to keep the momentum, and Otieno grabbed the ball off the left side and pushed into the try zone. Vail converted to earn a 7-0 lead.
After the two teams traded ball possession in the Aspen end during the middle part of the first half, the Aspen fullback broke free on a long run and tucked into the left corner of the Vail try zone. Waititi converted the kick to even the score. Then, in the dying minutes of the half, Aspen won a scrum in the Vail end and spun the ball wide to the right-side winger, who ran in for the try. Waititi converted the kick.
Vail’s second try came in a nearly similar fashion to its first. An Aspen penalty five meters from its own try zone set Vail up for a great scoring opportunity. Vail opted to kick out of bounds, setting up a lineout. After a good throw, Vail collected the ball and pushed the pack forward before MacKinnon took the ball off the back and powered his way into the right side of the try zone. The Vail fly half almost converted the kick from a tough angle, but it sailed just left over the goalpost, leaving Vail two points behind Aspen.
Less than 10 minutes later, Vail struck again. Off a steal in the Aspen half, the Blue and White spun the ball to its backs. Vail center Brian Dalrymple broke though several Aspen backs and offloaded to center Cameron Turner. With two defenders to beat, Turner dished to a streaking Phil Bennett, who had just substituted into the game. An Aspen defender tackled Bennett as he reached the try line, but the 6-foot-3 Bennett stretched his arms out and touched the ball down in the try zone.
“Cameron plays one game a season against Aspen when we are short number and he always seems to pull it out of the bag,” MacKinnon said. “We had some really good performances. Enos was stellar once again. And Adriaan (Neethling) played his best game for the club today.”
Aspen’s best chance came on a rush deep in the Vail end when two Gents broke free and stormed in on Vail winger Brighton Khumalo, who made a perfect tackle. A subsequent knock-on squashed what would be the best chance the Gents’ had to regain the lead.
“It feels good to beat Aspen,” MacKinnon said. “We’ll go out and enjoy ourselves tonight.”
With the win, Vail retains the Mike Wilson memorial trophy.
The two teams meet again next week in Aspen.
Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or email@example.com.