Rugby: Aspen Gents rally past Denver Misfits
The Aspen Times
The Denver Misfits, a blend of Front Range veteran rugby players, grabbed the attention of the Gentlemen of Aspen early Saturday afternoon during the traditional Fourth of July rugby game at Rio Grande Park.
The Misfits, fired up from the opening whistle, barged down the field and pushed the ball across for a try just 10 minutes into the game.
A successful conversion kick gave the visitors a crowd-silencing 7-0 lead in the holiday rivalry game.
But the Aspen crowd would not be quiet for long.
Gentlemen of Aspen head coach Cameron McIntyre summoned Gents’ decorated alum Alec Parker along the sidelines. Back in Aspen for the Fourth of July, Parker tugged on the familiar red-and-black Aspen jersey, tied up his boots and trotted onto the field.
“Alec commands a presence, always has,” McIntyre said of Parker, the Aspen native who launched his international rugby career with the U.S. Eagles as a player with his hometown Gentlemen of Aspen.
Parker, 6-6 and a former college football player at Colorado Mesa University, played in 58 games for the U.S. Eagles as a lock. He competed in three rugby World Cups — 1996, 2003 and 2007.
“There was a real turning point when Alec went into the game,” McIntryre said. “They (Misfits) showed more respect, and our guys lifted their play.”
Immediately after taking the field, Parker and the Gents charged through the Misfits defense with Garrett Lincoln breaking free down the left sideline for a try.
Robert Hiles, a product of the Junior Gents’ high school program, added the conversion kick to tie the game and offer some foreshadowing of things to come.
But the Misfits struck again with a penalty kick for three points and a 10-7 lead.
Aspen regained the lead for good when Luke Prosence, another former Junior Gent, scooped up a loose ball and rammed across for a try and a 12-10 lead. Hiles converted the try for a 14-10 lead.
And on the ensuing kickoff, the Misfits tried a misdirection kick and Hiles caught it and ran through the defense 60 yards untouched for another try. And he added the conversion.
Another Hiles penalty kick and the Gents led 24-10 at halftime, eventually winning the rivalry game 37-22 in front of an entertained holiday crowd.
“It’s great when you get some of our alumni back like an Alec Parker and a Matt Williams,” McIntryre said.
Matt Williams, an all-stater with the Junior Gents, played rugby at UCLA last year as a freshman.
He handled duties in the back line Saturday and also was pressed into service as a scrum half when starter James Stokes suffered a nose injury.
“The presence of a couple of very skilled and very experienced players makes a big difference and brings the rest of the players up to a level they don’t normally get to,” McIntyre said.
He said the Gents needed defensive organization against the veteran Misfits.
“I thought … our defensive organization was very good,” McIntryre said, adding that the Gents hoped to contain the Misits and wear them down.
“That’s what we thought we had to do,” he said, singling out Hiles for his exceptional kicking performance Saturday.
“Robert is a very good kicker. That is a weapon,” McIntrye said. “He kicked a good one (penalty kick) in the first half, and he kicked a good one in the second half, against the wind, from close to 50 meters. A very good effort on his part.”
Hiles, a recent graduate of Glenwood Springs High School, said he felt good Saturday and his kicking followed suit. He’ll play NCAA rugby next year at Central Washington in Ellensburg.
He worked with Austin Schneider along the back line for the Gents. Schneider broke the game open with a long run for try late in the game.
“It’s always great to come out here and wear Aspen’s colors,” said Williams, Hile’s former teammate with the Junior Gents and now playing at UCLA. “It’s even better when people like Alec Parker and James Aldridge come out, some real legends.”
Aldridge, a former Notre Dame running back, handled duties in the back line Saturday in the win over the Misfits.
Williams said his experience at UCLA as a rugby player was “one of the most humbling things ever. Getting out there with all those great athletes. It’s great. And I have to thank Aspen rugby for making it happen.”
Saturday’s win improved the Gents to 3-0 on the summer season.
They are scheduled to play in the Cowpie Classic Rugby Tournament in Steamboat Springs next Saturday.
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Laney Martens and Sami Jaworski were both part of many of AJH’s A and AA teams throughout their days at Aspen High School before graduating this past May.