The Denver Barbarians won the first West qualifier Saturday in Houston in impressive fashion, conceding only two tries in five games.
The Barbos blanked the Kansas City Blues 29-0 and Houston Athletic Rugby Club 24-0 in pool play, and in fact the only game in which Denver allowed any points was against Fort Worth in the quarterfinals, a game Colorado team won 36-14. The Barbos then shut out the Oklahoma Rugby Academy 38-0 in the semis and the Woodlands Exiles 24-0 in the final.
“The guys are pretty pissed they gave up two tries to Fort Worth,” said new Barbos head coach Mark Bokhoven. “Fort Worth played hard, they deserved those tries, but my guys are pretty upset they gave up those tries. We wanted to put a big zero on the scoreboard all weekend.”
Saturday was Bokhoven’s coaching debut after hanging up his boots earlier this year, and it was Denver’s first tournament of any kind this summer.
“We’ve got a lot of great players, so it makes my job pretty easy,” said Bokhoven of coaching.
“I was pretty nervous coming into the first game, especially when they made it only two pool play games. I didn’t have a lot of chance to bleed my players to figure out my final lineup, because I had a lot of questions going in.”
The Barbos picked up a lot of new players this year, and one of them is former Northern Colorado standout Kyle Hitt. He helped fill the void left by Bokhoven with hard-charging runs and impressive physicality.
“Kyle’s amazing, runs hard,” said Bokhoven. “That’s what I tell him, “Listen you’re not a stepper. Just run hard. Give me go-forward ball, and that’s all I ask.”
Denver was also bolstered by the addition of former Texas A&M All American Hunter Leland and super sub Taylor Howden. Howden is working his way out of Bokhoven’s doghouse, having missed some training sessions.
“I told him he wasn’t going to start all weekend,” said Bokhoven. “It’s a thing with me – show up to practice. I play my guys that work hard for me, and if you’re not going to work hard, you’re not going to start. I reward my players that show up to practices.”
The Exiles’ run to the finals was also impressive, given they were limited to just eight players most of the tournament. Zac Mizell, Steyn Benade and Chris Saint were in camp with the All Americans this weekend in Houston and weren’t available the lion’s share of the tournament.
Aspen looked strong early on, as Peceli Rinakama showed up healthy and in top form, and former Notre Dame fullback James Aldridge appears to be making strides on the rugby field.
Glendale, despite the injuries, also arose as a threat, with Dewon Reed and Bradley Winbush leading from the front and Justin Pauga proving he’s fit enough to truck a few guys in 7s, too. They took third, shutting out Oklahoma 40-0.
The Kansas City Blues, outside of the lopsided loss to Denver early Saturday morning, looked sharp, too, falling by just a try to the Exiles in the Cup Quarterfinals and winning big over Aspen in the Plate final.
And in their qualifier debut, the Oklahoma Rugby Academy proved it could compete at the highest level, finishing fourth and scooping up a qualification point.
These teams reconvene July 7 in Kansas City for the second of three qualifiers.
1st Denver 6
2nd Exiles 4
3rd Glendale 2
4th Oklahoma 1
Final: Denver Barbos 24-0 Woodlands Exiles
3rd/4th: Glendale 40-0 Okla. Rugby Academy
Semis: Denver Barbos 38-0 Okla. Rugby Academy
Semis: Exiles 19-12 Glendale
Quarters: Exiles 12-7 KC Blues
Quarters: Okla. Rugby Academy 31-7 Dallas Harlequins
Quarters: Glendale 21-19 Aspen
Quarters: 36-14 Fort Worth
Final: KC Blues 24-0 Fort Worth
Semis: KC Blues 28-12 Aspen
Semis: Fort Worth 19-14 Dallas Harlequins
Final: El Azul 21-14 KC Rogues
Semis: KC Rogues 21-17 HARC
Semis: El Azul 26-7 HARC
Woodlands Exiles 33-0 HARC 2
Woodlands Exiles 22-0 Fort Worth
Fort Worth 26-7 HARC 2
KC Blues 28-0 HARC
Denver Barbos 29-0 KC Blues
Denver Barbos 24-0 HARC
Glendale 19-19 El Azul
Glendale 12-12 Okla. Rugby Academy
Okla. Rugby Academy 14-5 El Azul
Aspen 38-0 KC Rogues
Aspen 31-5 Dallas Harlequins
Dallas Harlequins 19-0 KC Rogues