Aspen back on top of rival Vail
ASPEN Aspen coach Fred Waititi, a former Vail player and coach, was hoping he wouldn’t have to suit up Saturday against his former team. But he didn’t want this one to slip away.Just two minutes into the second half, his team facing an 18-10 deficit, Waititi donned a red-and-black striped jersey and jogged onto the pitch. And soon, Aspen’s losing streak against its rivals was over in a dash.Aspen’s talented backs frequently found themselves in open space, leaving blue and white-clad defenders behind during a second half in which the Gents scored 40 unanswered points – including three tries in six minutes – and ran away with a 50-18 victory.Two weeks after squandering a first half lead in Vail, Aspen poured it on. The victory snapped the Gents’ three-game skid against Vail, a stretch that included a humbling 31-5 loss in last summer’s Rocky Mountain Rugby League final. “It got away from us for a stretch there,” Waititi said. “We lacked direction, and we needed a little reminder.”Waititi’s presence paid instant dividends. The sure-handed fly half tossed the ball out to a Gents back, who shook free for a try minutes later; the conversion trimmed Aspen’s deficit to one. The Gents took the lead for good on a try eight minutes later.
“There were good tries because of the hard work done early on,” Waititi said. “Each of those scores came because we created space.”
Aspen backs Simon Dogbe and Nephtallie Bonbo took full advantage of that space. The duo combined for four straight tries in 12 minutes as the Gents pulled away.A Vail back retreated to recover an Aspen kick and, with Bonbo bearing down on him, let the ball bounce. Bonbo alertly soared above the Vail player, snatched the ball and broke away down the left side for the try. Dogbe then found some open space and left two defenders in his wake as he stretched the lead to 36-18.Soon after, Waititi scooped up the ball during a scrum and spotted Bonbo fading toward the sideline. He passed to Bonbo, who rumbled untouched for a try from 70 yards out; Mark Williams’ conversion gave Aspen a 43-18 edge.
Dogbe shot right through a pack of Vail players minutes later on a run down the left sideline. Aspen took a 32-point lead over a depleted, but not dejected, Vail squad that was missing nine starters. Three Gents even suited up for the opposition.”Honestly, I thought we’d get steamrolled,” Vail coach Steve MacKinnon joked. “We showed that more heart and determination can help you do twice as good as you should do.”While they lacked depth – four players with no match experience played the bulk of the game – Vail proved resilient after Aspen jumped ahead, 10-0, in the game’s first seven minutes. Aspen’s Jeremy Takirah misjudged a bouncing ball in the Gents’ in-goal 25 minutes into the first half; a Vail player dove on the ball to complete the try. Takirah was beaten on a one-on-one opportunity near the try line minutes later, and Vail took a 12-10 lead.That lead ballooned to eight after a penalty kick and a MacKinnon try two minutes into the second half.
Then Aspen accelerated.”Vail knows us well, they know we have quick backs, and they tried to keep the ball away from them in the first half,” Dogbe said. “Once they let our backs have it, we were away.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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The winter prep season is upon us. But before we look toward this year, let’s flashback to last winter and recap what happened between the Aspen and Basalt teams. The 2020-21 winter seasons were overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic, with shortened schedules and cancellations.