Who else? Gents earn another final | AspenTimes.com

Who else? Gents earn another final

Nate PetersonAspen, CO Colorado

Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

ASPEN Forty autumns ago, the Kansas City Blues won the inaugural Ruggerfest title after advancing to the Sunday final because the tournaments best team, a club side from Brigham Young University, refused to play on the Sabbath. Saturday afternoon at Wagner Park, Aspens home side ensured that there would be no nostalgic trip down memory lane today for the 1968 Blues players who are in town, shrewdly dismantling the current Kansas City team, 46-12. The Gentlemen of Aspens stable of game-breaking backs wove around and right through Blues players from the get-go, running Aspen out to a 46-0 lead before two late Blues tries. The win was Aspens third lopsided victory of the day, and earned the home side its 10th Ruggerfest final in 13 years at 3 p.m. Sunday, where it will face Mountain Select. It was also, as Gents coach Fred Waititi joked afterward, A lot harder than it looked. Were lucky weve got some good depth in our squad, Waititi added. Everyone on our squad has played today, and if we werent able to do that, if wed stick with the same players game-in and game-out, it could have been a different result for us. During the last few weeks, Waititi and assistant coach Andy Katoa aggressively recruited some talented players to strengthen Aspens side, ensuring the host team would be well represented at the 40th anniversary of its signature event.

Among the crop of players the Gents brought in were Dennis Walker, a bruising flanker from Houston, Texas, who previously played with Woodlands Division I club side, and Afasa Asuega, a winger from Haywood, Calif. Both were terrors on the pitch Saturday. Walker had nearly half of Aspens tries in a 57-10 rout of the Denver Barbarians B side in the quarterfinals, and had two more in the win against the Blues. Asuega arguably had Aspens most exciting run, a twisting sprint through the heart of the Blues defense that put Aspen up, 26-0, near the end of the first half. I just started practicing with the team four or five days ago, a smiling Asuega said. Im surprised that we are clicking so well. Most of the time, when a group of guys get together who dont know each other, its hard for them to play as a team. Its usually individuals out there. Said Waititi: Weve slowly gotten along over the last couple of weeks, and weve tried to keep things quiet. We didnt want too much to get out about what were doing and hope that we could sneak along in this tournament. Every other team probably thought we were a write-off, and its a nice way to go in. Certainly Aspen wont sneak up on the Mountain Select, after running roughshod through the championship bracket. Waititi reminded his players after the win over the Blues that they still have one more game, and not to celebrate a title not yet won. Weve tried to keep things in perspective, as far as where were at, he said. Its not so much the teams that were playing against; weve set ourselves some goals over the weekend, and weve managed to reach a couple of them. A couple of them weve missed. Its hard to imagine what those goals are. Aspen opened the match against the Blues with a try in the first three minutes. Sprinting down the sideline, Aspens Cameron Adams drop-kicked the ball right into the middle of the Blues try zone, and after a Blues player bobbled it, an Aspen player slid in to recover the loose ball. Taylor Howden converted the kick his first of four conversions on the afternoon. Howden also drilled a penalty kick through the uprights in the first half for an extra three points. Walker had the next try, set up by a pass from Simon Dogbe after Dogbe jarred loose a ball from a Blues player with a tackle. Aspens next try came with a price. Sprinting down the sideline, Gents scrum-half Jeremy Takirau pitched the ball just before taking a nasty hit that sent him flying off the pitch and into the crowd. Takirau smacked his head hard on the ground, and was motionless for a tense minute or two before getting up. A concussion will keep him out of Sundays final. With Takirau out, his teammates more than picked up the slack. Asuega and Walker finished Aspens scoring in the first half, then in the second, Aspen got tries from Bala Vereriki and the coach himself, who bulled over a few Blues players for five points. Its pretty tough mentally and physically to play three matches in a day, but all the boys, we trained down the road at Paepke Park beforehand, and everyone was switched on, Howden said. Everyone had ice baths between games, so we were all feeling good, and everyone was switched on. We just came out and went 110 percent and had the effort and came away with it. Nate Petersons e-mail address is npeterson@aspentimes.com