Defiance scores rare win over Aspen Gents
June 2, 2011
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – For just the second time in 19 years, Defiance Rugby Football Club upset its upvalley neighbor. The Glenwood Springs club edged the Aspen Gents in a thriller, 32-28, at Glenwood Park on Saturday.
Host Defiance, starting six rookies, five veterans in new positions and one old boy who hadn’t played in two years, looked extremely overmatched in the first 10 minutes.
Aspen controlled the ball with ruck after ruck and drove repeatedly down the pitch, only to be thwarted by self-inflicted penalties.
With adequate tackling, Glenwood showed a “bend but don’t break” defense. Defiance was helped by over-zealous rucking that resulted in several “diving over” calls in the rucks.
With constant pressure inside the 22-meter line, it looked like it was only a matter of time before Aspen scored.
Glenwood showed surprising strength in the scrums, particularly considering that the entire eight-man pack had never played together and included rookies in the front row, the second row and the loose forwards.
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The solid scrummage ball paid off at the 15-minute mark when flyhalf Chris “Woodsie” Woods kicked a 30-yard pop-up in traffic and was immediately tackled. Returning Grand Junction center A.J. Miller chased down the kick, fielded it on a bounce and outran the Aspen backline to score under the posts.
Miller converted his own try to deliver Defiance a 7-0 lead.
Glenwood seemed to come alive after the score and controlled scrummages, lineouts and rucks for the next three minutes.
Woods, in traffic as he was all day long, dodged inside and drilled a cross-direction, backhand pass to Miller’s hands on the outside. Miller eluded tacklers left, then headed right to score in the corner.
The conversion missed its mark, leaving the score at 12-0 in Defiance’s favor at the 20-minute break.
Both teams agreed early to take a break at the 20-minute mark to coach up the rookies and make substitutions.
After several long movements, Defiance was again threatening on the 5-meter line at the 30-minute mark but knocked the ball into the goal area. An alert Aspen center snagged the ball, sidestepped a couple of defenders just outside of goal and ran through the remaining defense for a 100-yard try.
“I was somewhat perturbed by the poor tackling, particularly when we had them on the ropes near the end of the first half, but my assistant coach restrained me from murdering anyone,” Defiance coach Bob Herrell joked.
The half closed with strong Defiance possession again and a penalty for offsides against Aspen at its own 22-meter line. Miller converted and Defiance took a 15-7 lead into halftime.
“At the half, we talked about the strong second surge they were using against us in rucks to steal possession,” Herrell said. “I couldn’t get too upset as half of my guys had never even been in a ruck before today, and they responded well to the delayed rucks later in the game.”
Glenwood and Aspen both started strong in the second half and slugged it out at midfield until Woods sent a long kick deep into Aspen territory.
Rookie “Li’l Nicky” Garay then had an amazing minute and a half of rugby in his first match ever.
First, Garay chased down the kick, made the tackle and won the ruck. He then jumped up, ran back into position, rucked over a tackle and picked up the ball. Juking three defenders, Garay outran a fourth to score in the corner.
Miller nailed the conversion to give Defiance a 22-7 lead, but Aspen was nowhere near done.
On a penalty near the Defiance 22-meter line, the Aspen scrumhalf quick-tapped the ball and weaved through the Defiance defense to score under the posts to cut the deficit to 22-14.
After several changes of possession, Aspen had another long breakaway by a large forward in what looked to be a certain score in the corner, but Garay was having none of it. Garay – 5-foot-5 and 120 pounds of him – chased down the 6-2 forward, tackled him from behind and stripped the ball for a knock-on to save the day.
But Aspen continued to roar back, controlling rucks, marching down the pitch with second- and third-phase ball and scoring again under the posts at the 19-minute mark.
With the score now 22-21 and one minute left until the 20-minute break, Miller once again took matters into his own hands. Receiving a desperation pass in traffic at the Aspen 22, Miller stiff-armed his closest defender, juked two more and carried the ball into goal as he was tackled.
Once again, Miller converted his own try and Defiance went up 29-21.
“At our last 20-minute mark break, our pack was pretty well gassed, and we had lost all momentum in the scrum,” Herrell said. “Our lineouts were still working well, but the big men needed help.”
To make matters worse for Defiance, Aspen scored again on the opening kickoff of the last 20 minutes and Josh Wolf and flyhalf Woods were both injured. Still, Glenwood clung to a 29-28 lead.
Just when it looked as if Defiance would crumble under the relentless Aspen pressure, help arrived from the Defiance old boys.
Andy Cook, 48, went into the front row and demolished the opposition.
Aspen did not win another scrum in the game. Longtime Defiance player “Big Lew” Lewis came in at No. 8 and made one of the defensive plays of the game by stealing an Aspen lineout inside Defiance’s 22-meter line to set up a long possession by Glenwood that wore precious moments off the clock.
Original Defiance player Chris Romme moved into flyhalf and made tackle after tackle to stop the Aspen rush.
After a long clearing kick and a penalty by Aspen at its own 22-meter line, Miller kicked a line drive through the uprights to extend Defiance’s lead to 32-28.
With five minutes left in the match, Aspen mounted a furious rush and camped out inside the Defiance 5-meter line. At one point, Defiance made four tackles in a row one foot out of goal.
After a final knock-on by Aspen, the referee blew his whistle and Defiance had beaten the Gentlemen for only the second time in the club’s 19-year existence.
Said Herrell, hoarse, flushed and in need of some nitroglycerin: “I could not have been happier or prouder of this team of rookies and old boys. When there are several heroes ranging in age from 20 to 48, rookies to 20-year veterans, you have a solid team that is built not only on tradition but has a great future. We will have plenty of ups and downs, but this is a team with nothing but potential.”
Perhaps the best comment came from the captain of Aspen, a 2008 graduate of the high school rugby program that enjoyed so much success earlier this year.
“There were 15 players on the field today that were Junior Gentlemen at one time or another. Isn’t that awesome?”
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