Glendale Raptors rule Aspen Ruggerest | AspenTimes.com

Glendale Raptors rule Aspen Ruggerest

Dale Strode
The Aspen Times

Andre Snyman is more than a student of rugby history.

He's also a part of it.

The famed South African rugby player, who has taken over the reins of the Glendale Raptors, helped the Denver-area rugby club step into Ruggerfest rugby history Sunday afternoon.

The Raptors, coached by Synman, won the 2014 Ruggerfest open division championship in dominating fashion at Rio Grande Park in Aspen. The Glendale club stunned The Willing, a touring side from the United Kingdom, with a power running and precise passing game, with the Raptors winning the Ruggerfest final by a staggering 74-28.

"This is the first time Glendale's name will be on the Ruggerfest trophy," Synman said, "I think it's a great milestone for the club."

With a combination of power attacking inside and then working the ball wide to a variety of skill players, the Raptors rolled through pool play undefeated and continued the momentum with a dazzling 45-13 halftime lead over a Willing team in high-altitude shock.

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"It's a nice feeling to finally put things together and win this for a change," said Synman, a South African rugby legend who played professionally in England and France. He played in more than 30 international and World Cup matches for the South African Springboks.

"We've been coming here for the last four years," Synman said after the Raptors broke their run of back-to-back runner-up finishes.

He said the goal of the Raptors' club is to build the program around the state-of-the-art rugby stadium/practice facility in Glendale, an enclave inside Denver.

The club hired Synman four years ago to lead the effort.

"Coming from a professional background, I'm trying to run the club as professionally as I can — on the field and off," he said.

To that end, Synman and the Glendale staff brought 42 players to Aspen Ruggerfest this year, mixing new recruits with veterans.

"This is a chance for me to see (the younger players) … see their talents, see how they play," said Synman, who added that a half-dozen of the new Raptors stepped up this weekend, in Aspen.

He said the support he's received from the Raptors club and the city of Glendale enabled the team to climb all the way to an historic Ruggerfest championship.

Part of that support, he said, enabled him to bolster the Glendale coaching staff.

He reached out to former Gentlemen of Aspen standout Robbie Dawe, who was living and working in the Denver area. Dawe played on Aspen's first national championship rugby teams.

"A lot of that spirit that was here in Aspen 10-15 years ago, is something we've tried to instill in our guys at Glendale," Dawe said after Sunday's championship win. "It's selfless rugby … that's been Aspen's culture for years. That's what we want."

Dawe said one of the team captains made a poignant remark in the post-match huddle.

"He reminded the players that two years ago here in the final, we lost by 70 points," Dawe said. "That shows how far this team has come in two years. We couldn't be happier."

In the 35s division final earlier Sunday afternoon, the Gents 35s of Aspen and the Misfits staged a back-and-forth thriller that was decided in the closing minutes on a 70-meter interception return for a try.

The Misfits, a blend of 35-and-older players from California and Denver, trailed Aspen 26-25 when Kregg Hyer stepped in front of an Aspen pass and bolted untouched for a Misfit try and a 30-26 lead, which became 32-26 with the two-point conversion — the final margin.

The Misfits led early 13-0 before the Gents 35s worked their way back to trail 20-19 at halftime.

Aspen then took a 25-19 lead, which appeared to send the Gents 35s to their second consecutive Ruggerfest title.

But Hyer and the Misfits had other ideas with the dramatic game-winning interception return.

"To top a great weekend of rugby, it makes sense for us to play a top club (like the Gents 35s)," said Andre Bachelet of the Misfits and a former standout with the Glendale Raptors. "We would prefer to play Aspen. We know they have great players; they're a class act."

dstrode@aspentimes.com