Muddy Barbarians retain rugby title |

Muddy Barbarians retain rugby title

Dale Strode
The Aspen Times
Muddy conditions at Wagner Park in downtown Aspen greet the players in the Open Division final Sunday afternoon. The three-time Ruggerfest defending champion Denver Barbarians won their fourth consecutive title with a 26-15 victory for the Glendale Raptors.
Leigh Vogel/The Aspen Times |

Neither rain nor mud, apparently, can keep the Denver Barbarians from their appointed rounds in Aspen.

The Barbarians, officially the CrossFit Colfax Barbarians from Denver, came from behind in the second half Sunday afternoon to beat rival Glendale for the Open Division championship of muddy Ruggerfest 2013.

The Barbos, with two second-half tries, defeated the Raptors, 26-15, for their fourth consecutive Ruggerfest championship.

“Ruggerfest is a classic tournament. Everyone around the nation knows about it,” said Max Deachaval, the Barbarian center-back and kicker, adding that a good showing at Ruggerfest is a source of pride for the Denver Barbarians.

“This is a great tournament. It’s right in the middle of the city, … a great venue,” he said as he wiped mud away from his eyes after the rain-soaked championship final at Wagner Rugby Stadium.

Deachaval put the Barbos ahead for good 28 minutes into the second half when he chipped a beautiful kick up and over the Glendale defense and under the goalpost at the north end of the field.

He collected the ball after the kick and touched it down to give the Barbarians a 17-15 lead.

Deachaval added his own conversion for a 19-15 margin in the second half, after the heavy rains of the first half had subsided.

“It’s a team play we use,” he said. “Our forwards held up the scrum really well. That made it easy for the backs to make a play.”

The Barbarians, working behind an effective front pack, scored another try under the post with 10 minutes to play. Deachaval’s conversion pushed the final margin to 26-15.

“We played a little more territorial than ball in hand. We tried to show a lot of patience,” he said of the treacherously muddy conditions created after nearly a week of rain — including the hardest downpour of the weekend during the 12-12 first half.

Mike Graham, a former Barbarian now playing for the Raptors, put the Glendale club ahead 15-12 with a penalty kick from 35 yards out early in the second half. Graham also scored a first-half try for Glendale.

But the Barbarians answered with pressure, timely kicks and Deachaval’s go-ahead score.

“I love the atmosphere here. I love the people,” said front-row Barbarian Ronald Tufele, who was voted the player of the match and the player of the tournament for the Denver-based club.

“To be honest, this is my first time at Ruggerfest. I’m new to the club (Barbarians),” said Tufele, originally from Western Samoa. “But the feedback from the boys is that Ruggerfest is part of the culture of the Barbarians.”


A prop/hooker, Tufele anchored the forward pack that extended the Denver Barbarians’ recent domination of the Ruggerfest tournament.

“The last three years, the boys won here. I feel proud to be part of the fourth win for the Barbarians,” said the soft-spoken Tufele, who was covered (every square inch) in Ruggerfest mud.

The Barbarians’ domination in the Open Division mirrored a time a decade ago when the Gentlemen of Aspen ruled the Ruggerfest tournament.

Many of those Gentlemen returned to Ruggerfest 2013 to help the Gents’ Over 35 team win the tournament championship Sunday afternoon, right before the Open final was held.

The Gents 35s, with a pair of tries from winger Brian Hightower, blitzed the Richmond Heavies, from the United Kingdom, 39-18.

“It’s fun to put on the boots and play. It’s a lot of fun,” said Hightower, who rose to stardom with the U.S. Eagles national team after refining his rugby game for the Gentlemen of Aspen at Wagner Rugby Stadium.

“It’s been almost 20 years since the beginning for a lot of us,” said Hightower, who now is featured on USA Rugby television broadcasts.

He said playing at Wagner brings back a lot of memories.

“It’s hard not to get a little nostalgic for those days when Aspen was competitive on the national scene, … back when Aspen kind of stamped its authority on this field,” Hightower said as former Gents and Eagles teammate Alec Parker walked past after Sunday’s game.

Parker, a former Aspen High School all-state football and basketball player, went on to play college football at then-Mesa State in Grand Junction. His rugby career started with the Gents at Wagner Rugby Stadium and took him all over the world with the U.S. Eagles.

He brought his international experience back to help Aspen win the Over 35 championship in the 46th annual Ruggerfest.

“I’ve been lucky to play all over the world,” said Fred Waititi, a former player and coach for the Gentlemen of Aspen. Waititi scored Aspen’s first try against Richmond.

“It was fun as hell … to be out here with guys I started playing with 10 years ago,” Waititi said. “Fun as hell.”

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