Gents fall short in final
September 22, 2003
All good things come to an end, eventually.
After a streak of seven consecutive titles in the annual Aspen Ruggerfest, the Gentlemen of Aspen blew a 20-point lead and lost – yes, lost! – to the Denver Barbarians in the finals of the 36th annual tournament Sunday afternoon at Wagner Park.
“The boys just thought they had the game in the bag,” said Gents head coach Lance Sigley. “We played 20 minutes of rugby in an 80-minute game – you can’t afford to do that.”
What started as a blowout – the Gent’s scored four tries in the first 20 minutes of the match – turned into a massive comeback and shocking upset as the Barbarians stole the championship game 29-25.
Teary-eyed after the game, Denver head coach Robbie Lumkong said he told his players the Gents would get overconfident after taking the big, early lead.
“I told them, ‘If we stay in it, we’ve got a shot,'” Lumkong said. “We kept staying in it and staying in it.”
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That they did. Down 20-0 midway through the first half, the Barbarians suddenly came to life, scoring 26 unanswered points. A late try by the Gents, who missed all five of their two-point, after-try conversions, wasn’t enough.
“That’s tournament rugby,” said Ruggerfest chairman Doug Cigliana of Aspen. “Anybody can beat anybody in tournament rugby, that’s what makes it so exciting.”
The Barbarians, who suffered losses against Aspen in four of the last six Ruggerfest championship matches, were overwhelmed by the victory.
“It feels great, it feels fantastic,” said Barbarians player Kevin Whitcher. “We’ve been working real hard, we’ve been rebuilding.”
So have the Gents, who have lost a half dozen veteran players in the past year, most to retirement. This year’s Ruggerfest was supposed to be a coming-out party for a new, younger Aspen regime.
But the Barbarians repeatedly capitalized on Aspen miscues, and exposed the team’s relative inexperience.
“They had a drop-off as far as depth,” Lumkong said. “And we took advantage of it.”
While Sigley admits this has been a rebuilding year, he and the rest of the Gents weren’t making excuses yesterday.
“We took our foot off the pedal a little bit,” Aspen wing Simon Dogbe said. “[And] we made silly mistakes.”
And while the streak was broken, the Gents weren’t. Dogbe said the loss will add a certain urgency and fire to off-season workouts, and they’ll come back strong.
“We’ll be raring to go,” Dogbe said.
Likewise, Sigley can see some good in the bad.
“Hopefully this will motivate the boys to train harder and get back to where we should be,” he said. “There’s only one way to go, and that’s forward.”
Lumkong called the win – the Barbarians first Ruggerfest title since 1991 – a psychological victory that will give them confidence in future matches with the Gents.
“It’s the result of a lot of hard work over the year,” he said. “It’s a reflection of character.”
The Kansas City Blues came in third place in the men’s open division.