Gents rugby returns to form, beats Denver Barbarians as summer play kicks into gear

The Mountain League season will start in two weeks

The Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Club plays against the Denver Barbarians on Saturday, July 2, 2022, at Wagner Park in downtown Aspen. The Gents pulled away late to win, 52-31.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

A week after losing its home opener, the Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Club made sure to remind its upcoming Mountain League opponents that it’ll still be a difficult test after a 52-31 win on Saturday over the Denver Barbarians on the pitch at Wagner Park in downtown Aspen.

The Barbarians had played in the 2022 national championships through USA Club Rugby at the end of May, losing 35-24 to Charlotte in the men’s Division II final.

“Very happy with that. Especially after last week. We had quite a poor week last week, but that was a really good performance,” Gents coach and player Ben Mitchell said. “They are one of the better club teams in the country. They just came off the back of a national championship final, so really happy with that result.”

The Gents led the Barbarians at halftime, 19-14, before pulling away in the late stages of the match. Aspen had lost to the Denver Water Dogs at Rio Grande Park a week prior, 71-33.

So, Saturday’s win provided a major confidence boost for the local side.

“I guess it means we are one of the best in the country,” Mitchell jested. “But no, we won’t get too far ahead of ourselves. There are definitely a lot of things we can improve on. We want to be the best team in the Rocky Mountains and we are still not there yet. It’s a busy few weeks coming up, so we are going to be pushing hard to achieve that.”

Mitchell, who plays professionally in Major League Rugby, first took over as the Gents’ head coach in 2019, a difficult season marked by the sudden passing of Jerome Hatem, who was the club’s president at the time. The 2020 season was then canceled because of the pandemic — this included Ruggerfest that fall — before rugby returned in at least a limited capacity in 2021.

The Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Club plays against the Denver Barbarians on Saturday, July 2, 2022, at Wagner Park in downtown Aspen. Aspen won, 52-31.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Last season did conclude with the Gents winning Ruggerfest — their long-standing home tournament held each September that is separate from the summer season — for the first time since 2018.

This summer is mostly a return to normal for Colorado’s rugby sides. The Gents playing on Fourth of July weekend had long been a tradition for the club, something it has missed out on in recent years.

“It’s always good to be back Fourth of July weekend on Wagner,” said longtime Aspen player Darren Barth. “It kind of feels almost back to normal. It sucked not having rugby for a year and then very limited games and limited training. So, it’s nice to be back open and fully playing again.”

Aspen will next head to Steamboat Springs this upcoming weekend for the return of the Cowpie Classic Rugby Tournament, last held in 2019 when the home side won the championship.

After that it’s on to league play, beginning with a home date against Steamboat on July 16 at Wagner Park. The Gents host Vail on July 23 in what could be their biggest home test of the season. Aspen will return the favor with trips to both Steamboat and Vail at the end of the summer slate.

“I’m feeling confident,” Mitchell said of their league chances and of going for the Cowpie title on Saturday. “Haven’t been there since 2019 and I don’t think we’ve won it since 2017, so we are going to go down there looking to win again. We want that title back.”

Ruggerfest also is scheduled to return to Aspen from Sept. 15 through 18.