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Let the punishment begin

Tim Mutrie
The Denver Barbarians celebrate their 29-25 come-from-behind victory over the Gentlemen of Aspen for the 2003 Ruggerfest crown. Aspen Times photo.
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The ruggers are coming.The tall and tanned athletes of the MotherLode Classic are gone and their bloodied and bandaged counterparts are on the way. The 37th annual Aspen Ruggerfest runs Thursday through Sunday at Wagner and Rio Grande parks.As the favored off-the-field headquarters of the event, McStorlie’s Pub, for one, is bracing.

“We just get lots of Guinness,” a barman said of preparations last night. “And we’ll have a security guy on.”The tournament features over-45 old boys and women’s action Thursday, over-35 old boys Friday, the 12-team championship flight Saturday, and the finals for all divisions Sunday at Wagner.The Gentlemen of Aspen – defeated by the Denver Barbarians last September in pursuit of an eighth straight Ruggerfest title – open Saturday at noon against the Denver Highlanders.

The Aspen 15 will feature two current U.S. National Team players in Alec Parker and Albert Tuipulotu. Parker, who grew up in Aspen and attended Aspen schools, is widely regarded as one of the nation’s finest players (he missed much of Aspen’s USA Rugby Super League season playing with the USA Eagles) and unanimously regarded as Aspen’s best homegrown player.Nevertheless, Gents head coach Mick Melrose said the team will need to hustle to reach game speed. “Unfortunately, it took up until a week or a week and a half ago for everyone who’s going to play to turn up at training,” Melrose said Monday. “We’ve got very limited preparation.”The Kansas City Blues and the defending champion Denver Barbarians represent the two other Super League clubs in the elite bracket. Other teams include the under-23 USA Eagles, Air Force Academy, Texas Selects, Amazona, University of Oklahoma, Boulder, Fort Collins, Grand Rapids (Michigan) and Kansas Jayhawks.

“The Texas Select team made it to the finals in Division I and in years past they haven’t been able to bring the team they’ve wanted to,” said Melrose. “This time, they’re all coming, so they’re happy about that.”We’ve got Alec and Albert coming back, and Tasi [Mounga] is coming into town as well,” he continued. “It’s good to have the two Eagles players back, but the guys from the Super League team will all be expected to play a big role and there’s also a lot of summer league guys we’ll be calling on who don’t have a lot of Ruggerfest experience yet.”Melrose, an Australian who joined the Gents in February before for the 2004 Super League season, will be making his Ruggerfest debut. He said he’s heard plenty about the loss to the Barbarians last year.

“They’ve all been talking about it for three or four weeks, and I suppose it’s our main goal now,” Melrose said. “We haven’t won anything [tournaments or titles] since Florida, and that was just before the start of the Super League season in late February, and we’ve got something to prove.”But as I said, they’re only getting back into it in the last few weeks, so they’re making it hard for themselves.”


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