Ruggerfest: Gents advance to championship game | AspenTimes.com

Ruggerfest: Gents advance to championship game

Dale Strode
The Aspen Times

On a day when the featured open division rugby teams battled at Wagner Rugby Stadium in Aspen, the women stole the show.

The open division pool play and semifinal matches Saturday determined the participants for Sunday's open final — the host Gentlemen of Aspen and the Misfits all-star squad.

But a women's rugby exhibition between the Boulder Babes and the Colorado Cougars also drew a large and most appreciative crowd Saturday afternoon as women's rugby returned to Aspen Ruggerfest.

The upstart Boulder Babes, including a number of University of Colorado rugby players, stunned the veteran Cougars with an early try, after a big kick from midfield, as the crowd lined Wagner Park on a sunny fall Saturday.

But the Colorado Cougars, including several former members of the U.S. national women's rugby team, answered immediately with the tying try.

And the Cougars, many of whom came out of retirement for the Ruggerfest games, kept their feet on the gas moving to a 19-5 halftime lead.

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The Colorado Cougars scored on their first possession of the second half and rolled on to a 45-19 victory.

As part of the 48th annual Ruggerfest, the women's rugby teams will play another game at 1:15 p.m. Sunday at Wagner Park, right before the finals in the 35s senior division.

That match will feature the senior Gents of Aspen against the senior Misfits at 2:15 p.m. Sunday, a precursor to the highly anticipated open division championship game at 3:45 p.m. Sunday at Wagner Rugby Stadium.

And for the first time in some eight years, the Gentlemen of Aspen will play for a Ruggerfest championship — a tournament they dominated in the 1990s and early 2000s.

With a tournament blend of players from the regular Gentlemen of Aspen roster and the Junior Gents, the Aspen open entry this year also included a number of international and American players invited to join the Gents' squad for Ruggerfest.

The additions included five young New Zealand players and a pair of Australians along with a legendary coach with historic ties to New Zealand and the Gentlemen of Aspen.

Brian Going, he of the royal Going rugby family, returned to Aspen Ruggerfest this year to lend a coaching hand to Gents head coach Cameron McIntyre, who formerly played under Going when the Gents were in their national championship run.

Going, McIntyre and the international Gentlemen responded with two pool-play victories Saturday and then a dramatic 20-17 semifinal victory over the defending Ruggerfest champion Glendale Raptors late Saturday afternoon as shadows covered Wagner Rugby Stadium.

The Gentlemen of Aspen opened Saturday's play with a try on the first possession of the morning game against Kansas City.

With contributions up and down the lineup, Aspen worked to a 28-7 halftime lead, eventually winning 47-7.

Gents regular Garrett Lincoln broke free for a second-half try, off an exchange started by scrum half James Stokes, a regular with the Gents all season.

The Gents next faced New Orleans in a hard-fought match that saw an Aspen 7-3 halftime lead.

New Orleans stunned Aspen by taking an 8-7 lead early in the second half.

But the Gentlemen of Aspen countered immediately with a long drive and multiple phases, including the go-ahead try.

After another Aspen score, James Aldridge of the Gentlemen of Aspen thrilled the large crowd with a breakaway run down the east sideline, setting up the decisive try to the Gents. Aspen won 19-8 to move on to the Ruggerfest semifinals and the Glendale Raptors.

In a game that was close and intense from the start, Aspen scored early. The try was set up by an Aldridge run and off-load to Todd Pearce, an Australian standout who has been playing professionally in Scotland.

Pearce's try and a conversion gave Aspen a 12-0 lead.

The Raptors, missing several members from their A side that won the Ruggerfest title last year, still fielded a physical side that bashed in for a pair of first-half tries leaving Aspen up by a tenuous margin of 15-12.

With each team playing its third game of the day, the second half became a battle of attrition and injury. Several second-half stoppages were needed for player treatment on the field.

Early in the second half, the Raptors had a player sent off for five minutes, giving the Gentlemen an on-field advantage. They went down the field and converted a penalty try after bulling their way deep into Glendale territory. The unconverted try put Aspen up 20-12 midway through the second half.

Glendale tightened the match with a try with just four minutes to play.

The try came in the corner of the try zone and Glendale was unable to add the two-point conversion, leaving the score 20-17.

But Glendale would make one final drive into Aspen territory, pressing for the go-ahead try before the Gents' made a crucial tackle on what turned out to be the last play of the game.

Aspen will take on a big Misfits all-star team that defeated New Orleans 24-12 in the Ruggerfest semifinals. Earlier Saturday, the Misfits beat Glendale 41-23.

"We've got a good bunch of boys here to help … from Kiwiland, some Aussies and even a Welshman," said Stokes, the Aspen scrum half and quarterback of the Gent's offense and defense. "We brought these boys in to represent Aspen. We're wearing the jerseys for Aspen."

Stokes said the Gentlemen respond to his vocal directions, key to proper alignments on offense and defense.

"They are keen to my voice," Stokes said. "They know exactly where I'm coming from."

He said the new Gents' lineup meshed in part because the Kiwis and Aussies play the same style of rugby.

"We do play the same kind of rugby," said Stokes, who added that Going's experience as an international coach provided a steadying influence for the Gents.

"Brian has been around the game his whole life. He knows exactly what he wants from us," Stokes said. "He's a wealth of knowledge."

Stokes, a diminutive 5-8 and 154 pounds, said it is a privilege to play for the Gentlemen of Aspen and a privilege to play under the guidance of Brian Going.

Brian's brother, Sid Going, is one of the most famous and most decorated rugby players in New Zealand history.

Ruggerfest 2015 will wrap up Sunday with championship matches in all divisions, starting with the 55s at 9 a.m. at Wagner Park.

Finals continue in the 50s, 45s and 60 divisions.

The women's match will start at 1:15 p.m. at Wagner

The 35s final will follow at 2:15.

The open championship is set for 3:45 p.m. Sunday at Wagner Rugby Stadium, which returns to its Wagner Park moniker Monday.

dstrode@aspentimes.com