Aspen rugby returns home after long absence, routs Vail at Wagner Park

Gents won 49-14 in first home game since Ruggerfest 2019

The Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Club plays Vail on Saturday, July 24, 2021, at Wagner Park in Aspen.
Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Playing at home for the first time in nearly two years, the Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Club overcame an apparent lack of size compared to the Vail side en route to a 49-14 win on Saturday at Wagner Park in downtown Aspen.

Prior to hosting Vail, the Gents hadn’t played at home since Ruggerfest in the fall of 2019. Their games two weekends ago at Steamboat’s Cowpie tournament had been the first matches anywhere since that Ruggerfest after the entire 2020 season, including last year’s Ruggerfest, was canceled because of the pandemic.

“We were impressive, seeing how we haven’t played much rugby,” said Gents coach Ben Mitchell, who plays professionally for the San Diego Legion of Major League Rugby and only got to town on Thursday. “I love spending my summers up here. It’s a nice break from the grind of Major League Rugby. It’s good to be back.”

With a sizeable crowd gathered around the perimeter of Wagner Park, the Aspen side was never threatened by its Vail rivals. The Gents got ahead by a couple of tries early on and put the hammer down right out of the halftime break to leave little doubt about the match.

Aspen’s Connor Rice, a native of New Zealand, was named man of the match by Mitchell. This was Rice’s first time ever suiting up for the Gents, following in the footsteps of his father, who played with the Aspen side for a spell roughly three decades ago.

“I didn’t make too many mistakes,” Rice said. “Credit to the back line for going over when we give them the ball. The forwards were really fighting so hard. Definitely we won the rucks. That’s something we should probably be really proud of. They have a big forward pack and we don’t have that big of a forward pack, but it just shows the heart.”

Aspen faced Vail without many of its younger players, as a group of U23 athletes was in Salt Lake City this weekend competing in the North American Invitational 7s tournament, where the young Aspen side went 0-3 in Utah.

Gallery caption: Photos: Aspen rugby vs. Vail

This left many of the older Gents facing extended playing time against Vail, something that didn’t seem to faze the side, at least when it came to the scoreboard.

“We have some good, experienced players and they stood up today and kind of took over the show, really,” Mitchell said.

Aspen’s upcoming schedule includes trips to Steamboat Springs and Vail the next two weekends where it will likely see both sides at each destination. The Gents are hoping to schedule one more home match this summer, likely against a Denver side, although nothing has yet been finalized.

At the very least, Aspen will host its annual Ruggerfest tournament from Sept. 23-26, following the delayed Food & Wine Classic.