Gents ready to repeat | AspenTimes.com

Gents ready to repeat

Nate Peterson

The Gents club side opens its title defense in Ruggerfests open division Saturday. The 45-and-older Gents side begins division play today while the 35-and-older side begins division play on Friday.Paul Conrad/Aspen Times file

Winning isn’t everything at Ruggerfest. And winning is everything at Ruggerfest.At least, that’s the way it is when you’re playing for the home side. For the first time in its history, the Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Football Club will field a side in the 45-and-older Old Boys bracket at Ruggerfest, which kicks off for the 38th year today at both Wagner Park and Rio Grande Park. The decision to put together a third side, said Aspen Old Boys coach Bryan McShane, stems from the belief that the home club should field a team in each of the divisions of its own tournament. Here’s the rub: By fielding a 45-and-older side to complement the Gents’ side for the elite open bracket and the 35-and-older side in the younger Old Boys bracket, there is the possibility that some older Gents players might end up playing for all three teams. Three days of division play, coupled with the possibility that each Gents team will advance to its respective division final on Sunday, that adds up to a lot of rugby.

“We’re just kind of spreading it around in the age brackets so we can host a team in each of the bracket levels,” McShane said. “We want to win the open division first. That’s our foremost goal. But, everybody is going to pitch in, depending on their age. Some guys will play Thursday, Friday and Saturday.”Priority No. 1 again is winning the Ruggerfest open title, which the Aspen club side did for the eighth time in 10 years last fall by downing the Denver Barbarians in the final. Then again, the expectation for every Aspen team is to advance to the final at Ruggerfest – not just the elite club team. Those goals will arguably be harder to reach this year with talent spread to three sides instead of just two. But, to reiterate, winning isn’t the most important thing for the home team at Ruggerfest.”Obviously, we want to do well individually, but the tournament is more important than a singular team,” said Mark Williams, the head coach of the Gents club side. “We’ll try and do well in each one, but the most important thing for us is to make sure that we have a team in each division.”Or, is winning the most important thing?

“Obviously, it’s our home tournament, so we want to do well,” Williams also said. “We’re confident about our ability. We respect every team who comes into town, but we’d be disappointed if we don’t make the final. I wouldn’t lie to you about that. Our expectations are to do well, and if we do well in each game, it will take care of itself.” Meet the contendersWhile the Barbarians of the Super League again look like the biggest roadblock for Aspen and its hopes of another Ruggerfest open title, Williams also mentioned two other teams would could wind up in the Sunday final.

The first of those is the Kansas City Blues, also of the Super League. The second is the select Kudu side, which former New Zealand All Blacks great Jeff Old put together. Last year, Kudu gave Aspen one its toughest matches of the tournament. Williams expects the club to be improved this year.”They’ve selected some of the best young players in the country,” Williams said. “They’ll be tough. There’s a lot of teams where there’s a rivalry between us. Of those teams, I think three or four teams could win this thing, and we’re one of them.” For the 35-and-older team, McShane said the tournament rules changed this year after the Kansas City Blues beat the Gents in last year’s final by four points. The Blues recruited a number of players from other teams to play in the final after those teams had been eliminated from division play. To be expected, the Blues’ depth ended up being the difference in the final.”This year, if you don’t play with that team on the Friday, you can’t just join on the Sunday,” McShane said. “Last year was ridiculous. They had four packs in the final, and they just kept rotating them. It was a good game, but we’re a small club, and we were just outgunned.”Nate Peterson can be reached at npeterson@aspentimes.com