Misfits beat Gentlemen of Aspen 50-22 in open finals to conclude Ruggerfest 50
Ruggerfest has certainly changed since Steve Sherlock co-founded the Aspen rugby tournament in 1968. Most notably, he seemed fond of the large, shiny trophy handed out to the open division winners Sunday, the final day of the 50th annual tournament. Five decades ago, the winners received a chamber pot.
“After the game, most of my side should really have been in the hospital, probably with or without a chamber pot. Now I see this wonderful trophy in front of us and things have gone on a little bit,” Sherlock told the crowd during the trophy presentation Sunday at Wagner Park. “I have gone on as well. Fifty years have gone on, and what a scene we have.”
That “wonderful trophy” was awarded to the Evergreen-based Dark ‘n Stormy Misfits for the second consecutive year after they beat the hometown Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Club, 50-22, in Sunday’s championship match. It was the third year in a row the two teams have met in the open division finals, with Aspen having won in 2015 and the Misfits in 2016.
Sunday’s grudge match looked like it would end up much closer than last year’s 47-20 Misfit win, but Whitey Nelson’s loaded side slowly wore down the Gents as the match went on.
“They are huge. It’s a side that is stacked with guys that have got international caps,” Aspen coach Will Herborn said. “You think you can match it and you can keep it out for a while, but eventually a couple of stray passes and they just can capitalize on it.”
The Misfits led, 12-3, only a few minutes into the match, but Aspen penalty kicks brought the Gents back, eventually tying the match at 12 each without scoring a try. That first try came soon after and Aspen led briefly at 17-12.
The Misfits ended the half strong, however, and took a 19-17 lead into the break.
“They weren’t fitter than us, but at the end of the day it was more about the physicality and what they can do on a counter,” Herborn said. “As soon as they got the ball in hand, they were dangerous no matter where they were on the field. It’s a completely different side than summer league.”
The Gents destroyed the Misfits a couple of times during the summer, but those teams weren’t full of high level national and international players like in Ruggerfest. Their talent level shown through in the second half when the Misfits took over and led by as many as 33 points. Aspen’s only points in the second half came on a try in the final seconds.
“It’s the same as last year. It’s just the flip of a coin on a few things,” Herborn said.
Even with the open division loss, Aspen didn’t end the day without a couple of Ruggerfest titles. Aspen won the masters division (35 and older), beating the Misfits, 38-31, in Sunday’s final, as well as the 45s division, topping Virginia-based Cardinals Rugby, 17-3, in the final.
Australia’s Mosman Rugby won the 50s division title, beating the Misfits, 14-12, in the final, while Cardinals Rugby beat Minnesota Old Gold Rugby in the 55s final, 22-19. The Salt Lake City Sister Wives beat the Goslings Gold MissFits in the women’s final, 39-19.
With 50 years in the bag, the attention now focuses on Ruggerfest’s next 50 tournaments, and the possible continued evolution of the trophies.
“I have had the most remarkable time and those who were with me in those very early days have rejoiced in what you guys have done,” Sherlock concluded. “It’s been a wonderful experience.”
A week after losing its home opener, the Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Club made sure to remind its upcoming Mountain League opponents that it’ll still be a difficult test after a 52-31 win on Saturday over the Denver Barbarians.
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