Vail takes down Gents for league title
VAIL – The Vail Rugby Football Club knew what was at stake in Saturday’s match against Aspen. There was a Rocky Mountain Rugby League title up for contention, but there was also a lot of pride on the line.Going into this week, Vail player-coach Steve MacKinnon, along with several Vail veterans, made sure his players knew just how important the game was. “We were super-confident because we were prepared,” MacKinnon said. “We prepared thoroughly. Aspen brought the big guns, but I said to our guys on Tuesday, ‘We’re going to win the game.’ I said to the guys on Thursday, ‘We’re going to win the game.’ I said to them at warmup, ‘We’re going to win the game.'”And Vail did just as MacKinnon said, beating Apsen, 31-5 at the Vail Athletic Field.”It was euphoric,” said Vail’s Tom Vallentine, “You don’t get the chance to beat them twice in a year often.”The blue and white held a 7-5 lead at halftime, but then used dominant ball possession in the second half to break open a huge lead and put the game out of reach.”We didn’t win the breakdowns and struggled in the lineouts,” said Aspen coach Steve Blair. “You can’t win a match when you can’t win set pieces.”
Vail’s forward pack wore down Aspen’s forwards and gave great balls to the Vail back line.”The backs were the guys who scored the tries, but the forwards starved Aspen’s possession of the ball,” MacKinnon said.In addition to the league title, Vail captured the inaugural Mike “Kiwi” Wilson Memorial Cup, for the team that wins the Vail and Aspen match in Vail.”Beating Aspen for the title is special, and it’s special because Mike was a friend of mine,” said Vail’s Cameron Turner, who scored three tries. Aspen took an early 5-0 lead after Brian Hightower eluded several Vail defenders and drove the ball deep into the Vail end before offloading to a teammate for the try.From there, Vail continued to push Aspen, kicking the ball deep into the Gents’ end hoping to gain field position.With several minutes left in the first half, Vail sent winger Craig Cameron from the inside on a long run. Vail then strung together several passes among the backs, and Turner took the ball in for his first try of the match.James Worrall converted the kick to give Vail a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
“James nailing that kick gave us a huge lift,” MacKinnon said. “It was a catalyst for what came after that.”The Aspen team, which had many old boys playing in its forward pack, looked solid in the first half, but the Vail forwards kept constant pressure.”It was competitive in the first half, but we just couldn’t keep it going,” said Blair, who played up front for the Gents in the first half.MacKinnon felt that Aspen’s pack would have problems playing a full 80 minutes. “They were more streetwise in the first 30 minutes, but they ran out of steam,” MacKinnon said. “They were getting nowhere with the pressure, and we basically broke them.”Vail started out the second half with another try by Turner. After an Aspen penalty, Vail scrum half Greg Tarpey put the ball into play quickly, and passed to Turner, who snuck in the left side of Aspen’s try zone.Several minutes later, Tarpey grabbed a ball out of the back the scrum 10 meters from the Aspen try zone and ran it in unopposed.Vail’s scrum continued to handle Aspen and give the Vail backs clean balls to work with.
Aspen threatened to score a few minutes later on a play where it had numbers in Vail’s end. An Aspen back popped a kick into the Vail backs, but it bounced high, and then Vail’s Gibson Weru took over.Weru grabbed the ball, quickly changed directions and sprinted down the left sideline. Right as Weru met a few Aspen defenders, he grubbed kicked the ball ahead, in full stride. Weru then kicked the ball again, and dove on it for the try.”What a gorgeous individual effort,” MacKinnon said. “As soon as he touched the ball, I knew he was going to score. He seems to float and dance around people. He’s deceptively quick and clever.”Turner added his final try on a nice reverse off the back of a scrum deep in the Aspen end.There were several skirmishes at the end of the match that featured lots of physical play.”They gave us a good tough, game, and we’re going to feel sore tomorrow, and sore tonight,” MacKinnon said. “But Steve Blair will come back, and he’ll settle for revenge next year. He’s a good friend of mine, and I know he’s not going to take this lightly.”While Vail had been preparing all week, Aspen struggled to field a full team for training.”We just threw it together Thursday, but there’s no excuse,” Blair said “We were well beaten today. They came hard at us, and we didn’t rise to the occasion. We’ve got to reground and learn from it.”
Let’s make some skiing predictions. I made my X Games snowboarding predictions a day earlier and remain only mildly lukewarm in terms of confidence, but maybe I’ll feel better about the skiers.