Gents land fourth straight title
It was muddy, it was sloppy, and the officiating left something to be desired. But in the end, the championship of the 32nd annual Aspen Ruggerfest couldn’t have been much sweeter for the Gentlemen of Aspen.
Playing their fourth match in two days, the Gents took on a tough, physical Kansas City Blues squad and outdueled them for a 37-22 victory to claim their fourth straight Ruggerfest crown.
“That was one of our messiest games,” said Brian Going, coach of the Gents, the defending USA Rugby national champions. “We didn’t play very well, but that’s a credit to Kansas City. We got moved off our game plan, but we got back on it in the second half.”
A game already slowed by the muddy condition of the Wagner Park field was further slowed by a slew of questionable calls from the referee.
“That certainly affected the game,” said Going. “You train all year, and then suddenly the rules change. It makes it tough to adapt.” A hard-fought win Using the slow pace and frequent penalties to their advantage, the Blues took an early 3-0 lead after an Aspen penalty resulted in a Kansas City field goal.
Soon after, the Gents worked the ball back down the pitch until the Blues were whistled for a penalty that left them down a man for a few minutes. The Gents capitalized with a try by Lance Sigley. Aspen captain Mark Williams kicked the conversion to make the score 7-3.
After the Gents’ first score, tempers began to flare and a fight broke out in the middle of the field. It seemed to breathe new life into the Blues, and they scored three field goals off Aspen penalties to open up a 12-7 advantage.
The Gents answered just before halftime on a try by Dougald Gillies. The kick by Williams was good, and Aspen went into the intermission holding on to a 14-12 edge.
Kansas City opened the second half with their only try of the match, and after a successful conversion, they found themselves on top once again, 19-14.
A field goal by Williams brought the Gents within two points, 19-17, before play got a little heated again.
The Gents then drove the ball deep into the Kansas City zone, but an initial attempt to drive the scrum over the line failed. The Blues were whistled for a penalty, however, and off the ensuing scrum, Aspen’s Jason Walker was able to punch the ball over the line to give Aspen the lead. Williams again made the conversion, and the Gents went up 24-19.
Kansas City answered right back with yet another field goal, making the score 24-22 and leaving them in a position to win the game with a field goal.
But a Blues penalty resulted in a clutch Williams field goal that widened Aspen’s lead to 27-22.
Down the stretch, the Gents got tries from Karl Siteine and Ian Walker to stake the eventual 37-22 win and their fourth consecutive Ruggerfest title.
After the game, the Gents were full of praise for their opponents.
“They were a tough team,” said Gillies. “They were a bit fiery, but you expect that when you’ve got Ruggerfest up for grabs.” The best one One key to the victory for the Gents was the dead-on kicking of Mark Williams, particularly his second field goal that gave the Gents a five-point lead.
“I knew it was a crucial kick,” said Williams, “but I was pretty comfortable with it.
“It was a really hard game. I’m not too happy with the way we played, but a victory is a victory.”
Another key for Aspen was the gutty play of halfback Paul Gibson, who routinely threw himself into the fray to gain possession of the ball for the Gents. After the game, Gibson, who has been on board for all four of the Gents’ consecutive Ruggerfest victories, bore a number of cuts on his face but wore a satisfied smile.
“This is the best one,” he said. “Every one gets harder.” Road to victory The road to the title began Saturday for the Gents with a hard-fought 15-0 victory over the Alaskan Sundawgs. Things got somewhat easier in the quarterfinals, where the Gents posted a 44-0 victory over Miami.
In the semifinals Saturday afternoon, Aspen bowled over Boulder, posting a 48-11 victory and setting up the Sunday showdown with Kansas City, who reached the final with a 16-15 win over the Denver Barbarians, the defending Super League champions and the last team to beat Aspen.
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Mario Ruiz came to Aspen Highlands from Bariloche through the ski patrol exchange as part of the Sister Cities program last winter. He quickly ingrained himself with the Highlands patrol. Ruiz was killed July 27 in an avalanche while working at his home ski area. The Highlands patrol is raising funds for his family.