Steamboat rugby claims league championship over Vail
Steamboat Springs — The afterparty at McKnight’s Irish Pub & Loft told the story of how the Mountain League rugby championship game played out Saturday.
Plenty of ice packs and bandages were pressed onto healing wounds, a sign of a long season — but one of the most successful seasons the Steamboat Rugby Club has had in a very long time.
Steamboat spent Saturday afternoon dominating its way to a league championship like the team has done all season long. Welcoming a deep and talented Vail club to Whistler Field, Steamboat rolled, opening up a 22-7 halftime gap en route to a 37-14 title game win.
“It was a massive game,” player-coach Julian Bristow said. “They traveled with a very competitive and very big squad. But it didn’t help them. We had an even bigger squad.”
Playing with a self-induced rule of only eight substitute players apiece, Steamboat’s seasoned squad completed a nearly undefeated season, which included a Cow Pie Classic title and just one loss on the road in Missoula, Montana.
Bristow said the game played out how he expected, with a physical contest in the first 15 minutes as both sides got a feel for each other.
Then Steamboat exploded, aided by huge tries from Nigel Hammond, who emerged this summer as the club’s go-to weapon. Heath Forsyth and Chris Baumann also got into the scoring action early.
“It just showed that Steamboat had a bit more speed with a couple nice breaks by Nigel, Heath and Chris,” Bristow said. “We got a couple great early tries.”
The early second-half minutes were a different story, though.
Bristow said Vail dominated possession and territory in the opening minutes but couldn’t narrow the three-score gap. Steamboat tacked on a quick pair of tries after the opening moments to put the game away and claim the league championship.
The title game was a rematch of last year’s, in which Steamboat traveled south with a depleted squad. Vail coasted to a 36-5 win then, dominating in all phases against Steamboat’s 14 players.
The 2014 story was different, with a combination of new and experienced players on the Steamboat end.
“All 14 guys last year were in the final this year,” Bristow said. “But a team is 23, not 14. When you have nine more to call upon, you do a lot better.”
Bristow named Jake Silverman the Man of the Match. He played his final game for the Steamboat club before he moves to Fort Collins to pursue a career opportunity.
“He was just outstanding, the best player on the field,” Bristow said. “He’s tenacious on defense and always a threat on attack.”
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