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Blood, sweat and cheers

Cowpie Classic a wild event

Melinda Mawdsley

It has been said that twins often think alike, and when it comes to rugby, brothers Michael and Sean Hurley place the sport above all else.

“We’re a rugby-mad family,” Sean Hurley said in his native Australian accent.

Or just mad. Sean typically doesn’t play for the Steamboat Rugby Club, but he had a “couple days off” and decided to come to Northwest Colorado — from the United Arab Emirates.

The journey from the Middle East lasted 26 hours one way.

Rugby is an obsession in countries such as Australia and New Zealand, so it didn’t seem all that odd to Michael or Sean Hurley that one would join the other for a tournament. The twin brothers have played all over the world, but it’s unlikely they have played in a tournament quite like the Cowpie Classic.

The Steamboat rugby classic was created nearly 30 years ago and began in a field that used to be an old cow pasture, hence the name of the tournament.

The Cowpie Classic since has moved to the Ski Town Fields off U.S. Highway 40. Gone are the soccer nets and Triple Crown baseball players. In their place for this weekend are bloodied and bruised men playing a sport that is relatively foreign to Americans.

But rugby is a sport that many have embraced in Steamboat. The sports most closely related to rugby are American football and soccer. The ball cannot be thrown forward, but players are allowed to use hands and feet to advance either by pitching it backward or kicking it for better field positioning to score a try.

As in football, players going full speed are dragged to the ground by a tackle. Unlike football, rugby players don’t wear pads or helmets.

“The hardest part of rugby is figuring out where you need to be,” first-year player Eric Wernig said. “Once you do that, it’s cookies and cream.”

Wernig represents one of the younger, faster members of the Steamboat Rugby Club. The new members mixed in with veterans have helped make the 2004 team the best Steamboat has had in recent years.

Steamboat got off to a good start in its tournament

Saturday morning with a 12-3 win against Fort Collins.

Fort Collins controlled the ball for most of the first half but failed to put the ball down across the goal line. Ten minutes in, Fort Collins attempted a kick to score three points but failed.

Near the end of the first half, off a series of passes on a successful lineout, Steamboat finally scored when Wernig broke free in the middle of the pitch and touched the ball down in goal to score a five-point try.

“I saw a hole, so I went,” he said.

Steamboat’s Shane Dooley kicked the two-point conversion through the uprights to give Steamboat a 7-0 lead.

Fort Collins once again was close to its goal line, but the half ended before it could score.

Most teams attack and advance the ball by getting it outside to their wings, traditionally the fastest players on the team. Steamboat scored its second try of the game using that tactic. A series of passes across the pitch led to Sean Hurley’s try near the touchline. The conversion failed, as Steamboat extended its lead to 12-0.

Fort Collins finally got on the board off a three-point kick in the middle of action, but neither team scored again. Fort Collins threatened to close the gap further, but Steamboat’s Jess Mitchell recovered the ball near the goal line, and Michael Hurley kicked it down the pitch.

“A lot of rust,” captain Michael Hurley said, assessing the team’s performance.

In the third game, Steamboat defeated Park City, Utah, 28-5.

The Cowpie Classic continues today with the games for fifth, third and first. The fifth-place game begins at 10 a.m. at the Ski Town Fields. The consolation and championship game follow.

Steamboat will play at 11 a.m.

Admission is free, and people are encouraged to come out to watch.


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