Lisa VanderVelde/Morning Star Garth Cooke of the Vernon Jackals shakes off fullback David Bellomo of the Penticton Harlequins in the men’s rugby final Saturday at Grahame Park.

Jackals jolt Harlequins in final

The Vernon Jackals ambushed the Penticton Harlequins 53-10 in Saturday’s rugby final at Grahame Park.

The defending Okanagan Rugby Union champion Vernon Jackals ambushed the Penticton Harlequins 53-10 in Saturday’s final at Grahame Park.

The Jackals advance to the provincial Saratoga Cup tournament, July 29-30, at Kings Park in Penticton. Vernon placed second last year.

The Jackals pulled out a last-second, three-point win over the Harlequins in their previous meeting so knew their kick-and-chase strategy had to work early Saturday. They capitalized off field position and a couple lucky bounces for an early lead.

Inside center Kyle Richardson had his best game of the season, scoring two tries and running the back line which scored almost at will. It was 23-5 Jackals at the break.

The Quins have a habit of being a second-half team and making some big comebacks and they stayed true to that, and came out hard and scored within minutes of the restart. Momentum seemed to flip when Vernon put themselves down by two players by taking penalties and being sent to the sin bin.

After giving up another score, veteran players Garth Cooke and Josh Cooper settled the young Jackals down and things went Vernon’s way.

“It wasn’t as exciting as the super close final last year but I liked it just the same; easier to watch for sure,” said Vernon veteran Bryan Cragg.

On the women’s side, Merritt and Lilloet pulled out of the Vernon mini tourney late in the week, but the Salmon Arm Yetis showed and the Lady Jackals, coached by Cragg, posted a 34-10 win.

From the early going, it was clearly a different Jackals team than last time, with captain Jen Schneider and Kara Wilhelms cleaning out rucks in the breakdown and keeping possession for multiple phases and allowing speedsters Amanda Watson and Sydney Hofer to both go for two long runs for scores.

The Yeti pushed back and scored consecutive tries before Jackal Kendra Kryszack’s crushing defence took over the remainder of the match.

“The whole day went perfectly,” said Cragg. “The progress our girls have made in the last month is mind-blowing; they looked extremely sharp out there. And our guys came out and played our most complete game all year. We look forward to taking that next step and becoming provincial champs.”

The Lady Jackals also move to the Saratoga Cup and Cragg feels “both teams have a real shot at winning the provincial championship.”