Easy as cowpie

Steamboat to try for Cowpie Classic rugby tournament win

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Steamboat Springs in an international town, so it's only appropriate that its rugby club has an international influence.

Players from six countries -- United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, England and Holland -- are part of this year's team of experienced foreigners and rugby newbies.

On Saturday, the Steamboat Rugby Club hosts the 31st annual Cowpie Classic, and captain Michael Hurley and president Mark Hermacinski think Steamboat has the potential to fare well.

"I think this is Steamboat's best chance in 20 years to take the famed Cowpie Classic trophy," Hurley said.

It certainly is the best chance in nine years. That is how long Hermacinski has participated in the rugby tournament.

"We have a strong team," he said. "Our numbers are finally up to a good level."

Hermacinski said that the addition of many foreign-born players has brought about much-needed change within the local club.

"I think it's a reflection of Steamboat," he said. "It's an international community. A big thing they've brought is a high-level of rugby. A lot of these guys have been playing rugby since they were 6-, 7- or 8-years-old. Here, guys start in college. Experience is one thing on the field, and socially, it brings together the different cultures."

On Saturday and Sunday, the 30-plus members of the Steamboat Rugby Club will come together in an attempt to win their own tournament. But the local team will not be the favorite, Hurley said.

The defending champions are from the University of Wyoming, a club that includes current and former college students. The same group has been together for years and has played a major role in increasing the level of play in the Cowpie Classic, Hurley said.

In Colorado, however, the level of play has been cyclical, he added. Clubs such as Steamboat are regaining players and improving their play, and other clubs, such as Glenwood Springs, are trying to return to championship form.

"Steamboat had a poor team for many years," Hurley said. "As we've kept the same core of rugers, we are starting to get a lot more experience and working better as a team. Our level of play is increasing."

This year's Cowpie Classic begins at 10 a.m. Saturday on the Ski Town fields. The grassy fields used for soccer or baseball will be transformed into rugby fields for the weekend. Steamboat doesn't open play until noon Saturday against Breckenridge.

Steamboat, a member of the orange bracket, then plays Fort Collins at 2 p.m. and Park City at 4 p.m.

Wyoming, Glenwood/As--pen, Boulder and the Denver Highlanders are in the green bracket.

The teams will receive a seed number based on bracket play and then crossover. The top two seeds from each bracket will play in the semifinals at 11:30 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. Sunday. The championship and consolations will be at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Ski Town fields.

Admission is free to the Cowpie Classic.

All games will consist of 20-minute halves, with the championship game having 30-minute halves.

Newcomers to the sport will find similarities between rugby and American football and soccer, but the terminology and several of the rules are different.

Fifteen players -- without pads -- will be on the field for each team, and the object is to score tries by advancing the ball forward. Forward passes are not allowed. A try is worth five points and is scored when a person carries the ball over the try line and places the ball down -- with pressure -- in the try zone.

A conversion kick is worth two points and is kicked from the open field much like a field goal. But the spot of the conversion is straight out from where the try was scored, so teams will attempt to score a try in the middle of the zone to ensure an easier kick.

A penalty kick at the goal is worth three points.

In addition to the orange and green brackets, an Old Boy's tournament with Steam--boat, Boulder and Colorado State will be going on within the regular tournament, as well. Players must be 35 or older to be considered an "Old Boy."

-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail mmawdsley@steamboatpilot.com

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