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Defiance humbled by Aspen

Post Independent/Kara K. Pearson
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Steve Blair had seen enough. The opening 15 minutes of Saturday’s rugby match against downvalley rival Glenwood Springs was a medley of penalties and errors for the visiting Gentlemen of Aspen. And after watching one of his players draw a penalty for talking back to the referee, Aspen’s first-year player-coach ripped into his troops.”Just shut your mouth and play the game,” Blair barked at anyone within earshot. “Just shut up and play.”Blair got his point across, judging by the final score. After the sluggish start, the Gents got rolling midway through the first half, then really got rolling – as in steamrolling – in the second half to hand Defiance a humbling 95-0 defeat.

Or something close to that tally. The head referee for the match quit keeping score in the second half after the Gents passed the 70 mark and only nodded his head in agreement after the game when asked if 95-0 sounded correct.With the win, Aspen improved to 4-0 in the young Mountain League season. A showdown against unbeaten Vail looms Saturday at Wagner Park, with the Culley Cup up for grabs.The Blue and White side from Vail is 2-0 so far this summer, after grinding out a tough 27-23 win against Steamboat Springs and following it up with a 38-14 rout of Breckenridge. Aspen thrashed both Breckenridge and Steamboat Springs by a combined margin of 140-29.Despite his displeasure with his team’s effort early, Blair said overall he was pleased with the win, and especially ecstatic about the play of some the younger players new to the Gents side this season.

“It’s always going to be hard the first 15 minutes against [Glenwood],” Blair said. “They were coming out hard at us and wanting to take us on, but when we settled down into some patterns and stuff and moving the ball the way we wanted to move it, moving it a bit wider, we started playing a lot better. … The squad is really picking up. I’m pleased with the way some of the younger ones played today.”Aspen’s Cameron Storm and Mario Herrera both had huge games, each converting four tries. Micah Mills also rumbled for two tries and had a number of big runs that led to other Aspen scores. Federico Basso also converted two tries, and Jerome Hatem added another.Aspen’s fitness was the biggest difference in the second half, as Glenwood’s side – a patchwork of veteran players and inexperienced newcomers – ran out of gas.”The biggest thing is that coach has just been running us naked,” said Aspen captain Jeremy Takirau, a New Zealander who played fullback and wing on Saturday. “We’ve gotten so fit, and as you can see, in the last 20 minutes they weren’t able to keep up with us. We just kept hitting them out wide. They didn’t want to run anymore because they were just too tired.”



Glenwood Springs captain Tim Swanson concurred with Takirau’s evaluation.”They’re way fitter,” he said. “They’ve got a full-time coach, and we just ended up with 10 brand-new players who have never played before, and eight of them were out on the pitch today. All the old boys were supposed to be here, but they didn’t show up, so we had to put in our new guys. … They played the best they could.”Takirau and Blair both acknowledged that the sloppy play in the first 15 minutes could be attributed to emotions running high between two teams whose players know each other well.Some of the players on the Gents’ side this season were playing with Defiance last summer, which creates a healthy rivalry, Takirau said.

“It was a bit of a grudge game,” he said. “It was pretty sloppy at first, but the last three quarters we’re really, really proud of. The boys stuck in and kept their mouths shut, and we just played great supporting rugby.””I’m just glad that we came off without any serious injuries,” Blair added. “It was physical. We’re always set up for them to knock down. I’m just pleased the way we handled that.”Turning the focus to Vail, Blair said his young team – which has an average age of 21 – still has a lot to improve upon. The foundation for a great season has already been set, however.”The movement of the ball has to be a bit slicker, but you know, we’re going the right way,” Blair said. “The winning feeling is there. We’ve not lost, so it’s a good atmosphere in the group.”


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