Gents KO Barbos in mud bowl
It looked like two primitive tribes at war, the participants so covered in mud that it caked into the corners of their eyes.In the latest installment of this time-honored grudge match, the Gentlemen of Aspen made clutch defensive stands to outlast the Denver Barbarians 13-7 for the Aspen Ruggerfest open division championship Sunday afternoon at Wagner Park.For Aspen, the victory avenged a loss to the Barbarians in the finals last September, when Aspen was gunning for an eighth consecutive crown. For Denver, it marks their sixth runner-up finish since 1997.Driving rain and a soaked field made for sloppy conditions and play. And even though conditions improved for the second half – more than 1,000 fans braved the weather – neither club managed to score a single point in the final 40 minutes.”Sloppy game, but the first half won it for us,” said Aspen scrumhalf and kicker Paddy Shaw. “In the second half, the boys got tired. But both teams were tired, the ball got slippery and heavy, and whoever could keep their position longest was going to win the game.”
Forward Nick Gregorski scored Aspen’s only try, following up on scrappy pack play in the 27th minute, and Shaw booted two 3-point penalty kicks and the 2-point after-try conversion to make Aspen’s 13.But Shaw also missed two routine penalty kicks, as did the Barbarians’ Andre Bachelot.In the 34th minute, Denver answered with its only try on another hard-fought push in the trenches by Leon Neville. Bachelot converted to make Denver’s 7.In the second half, Aspen’s defense twice denied Denver points when the powerful Barbos pack pushed deep inside Aspen’s five-meter zone. And Aspen was denied by the Barbos in an identical situation.Then, in the final moments with Denver again deep in the Aspen zone, Aspen’s Alec Parker – leaping with the help of his forward teammates – won a Barbarians lineout that won Aspen possession and, in turn, the game.
“They controlled the second half and we didn’t get much ball,” said Aspen coach Mick Melrose. “But our defense stepped up, got us out of some situations that could’ve cost us the game.”Added Shaw, “The whole first half was a daze, with the rain and mud, but that’s definitely what won us the game. We kept positive, kept our heads up and Alec Parker came through brilliantly in the lineouts and Damien Barr controlled play well from flyhalf.”Parker was voted the MVP of the tournament for a second time.”It was a tough game, and we all made a bunch of mistakes,” said Parker. “I mean, the ball is hard to hang on to so you’ve got to change the way you play. It was hard fought and kudos to Denver, they never gave up. And we had to hang on.”Aspen and Denver went undefeated in three games during elimination play on Saturday, with Aspen beating the likes of the Denver Highlanders, Air Force Academy and a select side called KUDU.
And when it was all through Sunday afternoon, Gents players celebrated wildly while the Barbos tried to stomach their disgust.”We felt like we really needed to take it to them in the [forward] pack and honestly we felt like we dominated the pack,” said Barbarians coach Robert Lumkong. “They just showed a lot of savvy, killing a lot of ball and collapsing a lot of mauls, and the referee did not penalize them for that.”Granted, on a dry surface they probably have a lot more dynamic weapons in the back line. We’ll give ’em that,” Lumkong added, “but I thought they played a destructive style of rugby.”Parker conceded it was an unusual situation for Aspen to find itself overmatched at the point of attack.”They were pushing us pretty good, scrums and lineouts or driving mauls, and there wasn’t much we could do to stop it,” he said. “But everyone played well, well enough to come through in the end anyway.”
At the awards ceremony, Aspen’s Shaw dedicated the victory to Pat Culley, the Aspen player who was paralyzed during a game in May.”This one’s for you, Pat,” Shaw said, drawing a lengthy ovation for Culley, who was on hand for the weekend. And Parker gave Culley a hug when he accepted his award.”With everything that this team has faced this year, it means even more to get the title back this year,” said Parker.Added coach Melrose: “I’m really happy they’ve been able to get something out of the season. They’ve done really well through the season, but we’ve just fallen off championships, so it’s good to finish this one off.”Other action SundayThe Kansas City Blues hung on to beat the Gentlemen of Aspen 13-6 in the over-35 Old Boys division final. The Twin Cities Amazons defeated the Eastern Rockies Rugby Football Union 23-0 for the women’s division championship. Colorado beat Florida 7-5 for the over-50 Old Boys division championship, and Missouri edged Minneapolis 8-0 for the over-45 title. The KUDU select side beat Boulder 21-0 for third place in the open division.
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