On an absolutely ideal rugby day under cloudless skies with temperatures in the low-70s, Vail and Aspen did battle at Vail’s inimitable rugby grounds.
The annual Rugby Classic between the venerated mountain skitowns had a little bit of everything: from a brace of tries by a Fijian trialist to the winning score by a winger who, until last Thursday, had been hanging at home in Springfield, Mo. wondering what life had in store next. Each side scored three tries, though it was the scramble over goal by a recent High Country arrival that told the story at day’s end.
The Gentlemen got aboard first with a skip-pass maneuver and fullback fill-in that put Peceli Rinakama in space 30 meters from Vail’s goaline. A slick dummy pass followed by a step inside, and Rinakama was across for the try converted by inside center Morgan Frotheringham; 7-0 Aspen in the 10th minute.
Aspen sought to supply its talented threequarter line while furious and fruitful grappling of the Vail forwards caused disruption in that particular aspect of the Gentlemen’s game plan. Much activity in the next twenty as both sides worked into their opponent’s territory only to lose possession due to handling errors, mental mistakes, and the odd breakdown infringement.
Aspen were pinged for hands in the ruck at their ten meter line. Ball advanced to touch had the Vail lineout twelve meters out. Vail’s forwards tapped back to former Glendale Raptor halfback Zach Strom, and he was in for the try. 7-5 Aspen led at 34.
The sides traded penalty goals before referee Brighton Khumalo’s halftime signal with Frotheringham true from 25 meters outside the right post and Vail center Bob Barrett’s effort making the numbers 10-8 to the visitors at break.
Aspen’s back three, featuring Rinakama and former Notre Dame fullback James Aldridge, a dangerous man in the open, kept the travelers on the front foot early in the second half until Vail were able to claim a scrum against the head five meters from Aspen’s tryline. Swift service to Zach Wurth put him across for the grounding which, with Barrett’s conversion, gave Vail their first lead of the match at 15-10 in the 50th minute.
Ten minutes on, Aspen was penalized. Barrett was good for the slot and Vail extended its lead to 18-10 with 19 minutes left.
Aspen drew within one as No. 8 Ratu Vala stripped the ballcarrier at Vail’s 22 and rushed to goal. Frotheringham converted to make it 18-17.
And now came young Vail winger Mikey White, who 72 hours before had been in Springfield, Mo. when he got a call from Vail coach John McGuire. He made training on Thursday and was on the field on Saturday, in time to take Strom’s pass and score to give his side a 23-17 lead.
With time frittering away, Rinakama snatched a loose ball and stepped inside one tackler, fended off another, and raced into goal. No conversion though, and Vail still led 23-22.
Moments later Khumalo blew full time.
John McGuire’s first match as Vail’s head coach was a good one, “We’ve things to work on, but overall I’m satisfied with the result.”
Vail RFC president Chris Chantler echoed that sentiment, ”I’m very optimistic that this side, which I believe to be the first Vail starting fifteen to be entirely American-born and -bred, has what it takes to bring Vail to prominence in the ERRFU’s Summer Mountain League and I expect us to improve from here on.”
Next match for Vail, Saturday June 16, 1pm versus Glenwood RFC at Glenwood Park, while Aspen host juggernaut Steamboat Springs RFC, 1pm at Wagner Rugby Grounds in Aspen on that day.
Tries: Strom, Wurth, White
Pens: Barrett (2)
Tries: Rinakama (2), Vala
Convs: Frotheringham (2)
Match Official: Brighton Khumalo