Vail takes down Aspen for title
VAIL – The Vail Rugby Football Club knew what was at stake in Saturday’s match against Aspen. There was a Rocky Mountain Rugby League title up for contention, but there was also a lot of pride on the line.Going into this week, Vail player/coach Steve MacKinnon, along with several Vail veterans, made sure his players knew just how important the game was. “We were super confident because we were prepared,” MacKinnon said. “We prepared thoroughly. Aspen brought the big guns, but I said to our guys on Tuesday, ‘We’re going to win the game.’ I said to the guys on Thursday, ‘We’re going to win the game.’ I said to them at warmup, ‘We’re going to win the game.'”And Vail did just as MacKinnon said, beating Apsen, 31-5, at the Vail Athletic Field.”It was euphoric,” said Vail’s Tom Vallentine. “You don’t get the chance to beat them twice in a year often.” Vail lost to Aspen, 55-5, earlier this year in Aspen, then beat Aspen in the finals of the Ski Town Tournament in Breckenridge last month.The Blue and White held a 7-5 lead at halftime Saturday but then used dominant ball possession in the second half to break open a huge lead and put the game out of reach.
“We didn’t win the breakdowns and struggled in the lineouts,” said Aspen coach Steve Blair. “You can’t win a match when you can’t win set pieces.”Vail’s forward pack wore down Aspen’s forwards and gave great feeds to the Vail backline.”The backs were the guys who scored the tries, but the forwards starved Aspen possession of the ball,” MacKinnon said.In addition to the league title, Vail captured the inaugural Mike “Kiwi” Wilson Memorial Cup, awarded to the team that wins the Vail and Aspen match in Vail.”Beating Aspen for the title is special, and it’s also special because Mike was a friend of mine,” said Vail’s Cameron Turner, who scored three tries. “It’s (the same) for guys likeGreg Tarpey, Will Monsour, myself and Phl Bennett because we all played with Mike when we started here 10 years ago.”
Aspen took an early 5-0 lead on a score after the Gents’ Brian Hightower eluded several Vail defenders and drove the ball deep into the Vail end. After Vallentine tackled Hightower, another Aspen back took the ball in for a try.But Vail, which had been pushing Aspen from the kickoff, kept pounding the ball up front, and kicking the ball deep into the Gents’ end for field position.With several minutes left in the first half, Vail sent winger Craig Cameron from the opposite end for a long run. Vail then strung together several nice passes among the backs and Turner took the ball in for his first try of the match.James Worrall converted the kick to give Vail a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.”James nailing that kick gave us a huge lift,” MacKinnon said. “It was a catalyst for what came after that.”The Aspen team, which had many Old Boys playing in its forward pack, looked solid in the first half, but the Vail forwards kept constant pressure.
“It was competitive in the first half, but we just couldn’t keep it going,” said Blair, who played at No. 2 for the Gents for the first half.MacKinnon felt that Aspen’s pack would have problems playing a full 80 minutes. “They were more streetwise in the first 30 minutes, but they ran out of steam,” MacKinnon said. “They were getting nowhere with the pressure, and we basically broke them.”Flurry of triesVail started out the second half with another try by Turner. After an Aspen penalty, Vail scrum half Greg Tarpey put the ball into play quickly and passed to Turner, who snuck in the left side of Aspen’s try zone.Several minutes later, Tarpey grabbed a ball out of the back of the scrum 10 meters from the Aspen try zone and ran it in unopposed.
Vail’s scrum continued to handle Aspen and give the Vail backs clean balls to work with.”Our scrum was solid all day,” Vallentine said. “We spun them three or four of their scrums, and Brandon McDonald, Phil Bennett and Wolfgang Opel stole a bunch of balls in lineouts, which was a bonus.”Aspen threatened to score a few minutes later on a play where it had numbers in the backs. An Aspen back popped a kick into the Vail backs, but it bounced high over the Aspen backs, and then Vail’s Gibson Weru took over.Weru grabbed the ball in the air, quickly changed directions and sprinted down the left sideline. Right as Weru met a few Aspen defenders, he grubber kicked the ball ahead, still in full stride. Once Weru caught up to the ball ahead of any Aspen player, he tapped it ahead into the try zone and dove on the ball for a score.”What a gorgeous individual effort,” MacKinnon said. “As soon as he touched the ball, I knew he was going to score. He seems to float and dance around people. He’s deceptively quick and clever.”Turner added his final try on a nice reverse off the back of a scrum deep in the Aspen end.
“I was thinking this was going to be my last game, but it’s going to be tough to retire on three tries,” Turner said.There were several skirmishes at the end of the physical match.”They gave us a good, tough game, and we’re going to feel sore tomorrow. We’ll be sore tonight,” MacKinnon said. “But Steve Blair will come back, and he’ll settle for revenge next year. He’s a good friend of mine, and I know he’s not going to take this lightly.”While Vail had been preparing all week, Aspen struggled to field a full team for training.”We just threw it together Thursday, but there’s no excuse,” Blair said. “We were well beaten today. (Vail) came hard at as, and we didn’t rise to the occasion. We’ve got to regrounp and learn from it.”Kicks
After the game, both teams honored Wilson.”Mike (Wilson) loved the game (of rugby). And he hated Aspen,” Turner joked, to the laughs of the Aspen players and fans. Aspen apparently harbored no hard feelings toward Wilson, as the Gents donated $1,500 to help Wilson’s family.Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado
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