Barbos roll at 45th annual Aspen Ruggerfest | AspenTimes.com

Barbos roll at 45th annual Aspen Ruggerfest

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

Jim Ryan/Special to The Aspen TimesThe Denver Barbarians, left, and Glendale Raptors get in a scrum Sunday during the Ruggerfest open-division championship at Wagner Park.

ASPEN – A Denver Barbarians player wrapped an arm around a beaming teammate Sunday in a far corner of the Wagner Park pitch.

“That was the best game of rugby I’ve ever been a part of,” he proudly proclaimed.

Sterling performances are becoming customary for the Barbos at Ruggerfest.

Denver put on quite a spectacle – albeit one devoid of drama – in Sunday’s open-division final at a packed Wagner Park. As a result, it secured a third consecutive title in the annual showcase.

The Barbos’ relentless, quick-strike offense erupted for 19 points in the first 10 minutes against an overmatched Glendale Raptors defense. They led by 23 at the half and continually applied pressure down the stretch, routing their Front Range rivals, 73-21.

“It’s always nice to come up here and win, especially when you play this well,” Barbos head coach Jason Kelly said. “It’s like we were coming fresh off the boat; we had just four trainings, then played yesterday. We didn’t play well. We had a lot to work on today, and the guys did well.”

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Competing in its first 15s match in about five months Saturday, Denver dropped a tight opener, 26-24, to Klim. The Barbos rebounded with a 19-16 win over New Orleans RFC and then outlasted Klim, 17-11, to secure their spot in Sunday’s final for a fifth consecutive year.

“A bunch of guys hadn’t played in a while, so we were knocking off the rust,” team standout Logan Collins said. “Once we did that, we started rolling, and the confidence started snowballing.

“We know points will come – we’ve got the athletes and the players. We wanted to come out hot, get a few tries on the board and make our one-on-one tackles.”

Mission accomplished on all fronts.

Just two minutes after kickoff, Denver pounced. A Glendale player tried to kick the ball out of harm’s way near his own goal line and was blocked. Soon after, a Barbos player found a crease and dove in for a try.

Little more than five minutes later, a Denver player executed a perfect drop-kick to a teammate, who sprinted past the Raptors defense, slid and snatched the ball out of the air beyond the try line. The ensuing conversion stretched the lead to 14.

That on-target kicking game proved fruitful again some three minutes later, when a Barbos back scooped up a bounding ball and sprinted untouched for the score and another five points.

“We managed to put them under pressure and convert points straight away, which was awesome,” Kelly said. “Glendale is kind of our new rivals, so it was good to put a bit of a hiding on them today.”

The onslaught continued – not even a black dog bounding across the pitch, momentarily halting play, could quell Denver’s momentum. Utilizing a combination of speed and brawn, the Barbos backs ran wild in a 37-point first half. They routinely shed defenders with fierce stiff-arms and dragged others past the try line.

Seconds before halftime, Denver wowed a spirited crowd with a drop-kick that split the uprights from midfield.

The only thing in question during the final 40 minutes was whether the scoreboard operator could keep up with Denver as it continued to wear out the Wagner turf.

A last-minute free kick gave the Barbos 73 points – 13 more than they scored in three games Saturday.

“Our goal for the tournament was to come out and have a three-peat. That’s been in the crosshairs from the very beginning,” Collins said. “We had a game plan, … and we all bought in to what we’re doing and bought in to the Barbos legacy that we’re trying to keep pushing.

“Beating (crosstown rival) Glendale was extra sweet. Enough said.”

Conspicuously absent from yet another Sunday at Ruggerfest were the host Gentlemen of Aspen. Local teams made just one championship-game appearance – the Old Boys came up short against the Misfits in the over-35 final – and the Gents failed to qualify for the open title game for the second consecutive season. Last year’s exclusion was the club’s first since 1993.

Aspen, winners of 12 of the past 17 Ruggerfest crowns, finished 1-2 in pool play, including a 62-12 loss to New Orleans in a consolation match.

“It would be nice if Aspen was back to where it used to be,” Kelly said. “When I played, they were always strong, and we always lost to them in the final.”

Collins jokingly added, “I could care less, to be honest. Us and them the last few years, it was fun, but we don’t come out here to beat certain competitors. We come out to win the tournament.

“This is a good gauge for us to know where we are and what we need to grow toward. I suppose we can at least be happy for the next couple weeks until we get to the next game.”

jmaletz@aspentimes.com