Aspen Gents are back on rugby pitch, win twice at Cowpie tournament in Steamboat
Two decades in and Simon Dogbe still enjoys getting in a run with the boys. He has noticed the younger Gents move a little quicker than he does these days, especially after the long COVID-19 induced layoff, but it’s all part of the fun.
“We got so many young players coming up. That adds a whole new dimension to training, because they are fitter and faster,” said Dogbe, who grew up just outside of London but now calls the Roaring Fork Valley home. “I’m loving life running it again. Like everyone else, I’ve been cooped up for just over a year. It’s been fun getting the body back in rugby shape — the difference between just fitness and actually having to hit someone and be hit. So it’s been a lot of fun.”
While it’s not quite back to normal, meaning like it was pre-pandemic, the Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Football Club is certainly back on the pitch like the good old days. The Gents played this past weekend in the popular Cowpie Classic Rugby Tournament in Steamboat Springs, their first significant competition since Aspen’s own Ruggerfest tournament in the fall of 2019.
The Gents went 2-1 up in Steamboat, beating the host side in the first game and then topping the Water Dogs B side in the second. Aspen lost to the Water Dogs A side in the semifinal game in sudden-death overtime. The Water Dogs, who play under the familiar Denver Misfits brand, lost to Boulder in the championship game.
“Considering the layoff and even without that, there were some glimpses of what looked like rugby in the first game,” longtime Aspen rugby coach Cameron McIntyre said. “Showed up even a bit more in the second game. In a lot of ways, we unfortunately left some of our lesser play until the third game, in the semifinal. Time off and a little bit of perhaps lack of running told the tale in the end.”
Mitchell returning as coach
McIntyre is leading the team alongside players and coaches Jeff Barnhill and Zach Hendrix. However, Ben Mitchell is expected back as soon as next weekend to take over primary coaching duties for the remainder of the summer. He first coached the Gents in 2019.
Mitchell, who grew up in Ireland, currently plays for Major League Rugby’s San Diego Legion, which just concluded its season.
The Gents have plenty of young legs on the roster this season, due in large part to the Willits-based high school program run by McIntyre and Hendrix. The Junior Gents season is in the spring and the program has become somewhat of a feeder program for the Gents’ main summer team.
“I’ve been here a long time and this is the largest number of juniors that have come up in one season together,” Dogbe said. “It’s great. Even the other teams noticed it playing on the weekend, how many young players we got, and they ended up doing really well.”
This youth has led to another iteration of the Gents, as they put together a U23 men’s team for next weekend’s North American Invitational 7s tournament in Salt Lake City, Utah. While summer league rugby is a 15-per-side affair, this is a faster 7-on-7 contest, the same as what is played in the Olympics.
Photos: Aspen Gents rugby practice
“A lot of guys we had coached in high school were coming out. And because they were putting the effort in, we looked at something to reward them with and this Salt Lake 7s was the first thing we saw,” McIntyre said. “Some of those teams will have some aspirations to show off a pathway to the Olympics, so I think we’ll be up against some strong opposition. A good test for the young guys.”
The NAI 7s tournament is scheduled for July 23 and 24 in Salt Lake.
A fluid schedule
Aspen’s schedule the next few months remains fluid. As of Thursday evening, the Gents plan to hold an intrasquad scrimmage at 1 p.m. Saturday at Wagner Park in downtown Aspen. The following Saturday, July 24, Aspen will host rival Vail. The Gents then head back to Steamboat Springs for a few games on July 31 and will go to Vail on Aug. 7.
Also back on the calendar this year is the 53rd annual Aspen Ruggerfest tournament, scheduled for Sept. 23 to 26. The 2020 tournament was canceled because of the pandemic and this year’s tournament is being held a little later than normal to accommodate the delayed Food & Wine Classic, scheduled for Sept. 10 to 12 this year.
The International Ski and Snowboard Federation announced that for the first time in 19 years, a ski jumping World Cup event will take place on American soil from Feb. 10-12.
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