The Vernon Jackals are ready for the annual Edmonton Rugbyfest Sevens Tournament this weekend.
The undefeated Jackals warmed up for the extravaganza by brushing back the Penticton Harlequins 27-24 in a drama-jammed Okanagan Rugby Union game Saturday at Grahame Park.
The referee gave the final play call to both teams so Vernon played to their strengths and shipped the ball out to centre Kyle Richardson, who side- stepped a defender to stroll in for the winning score with no time left. He also booted his own conversion.
Vernon controlled the final four minutes after stealing the ball in a ruck. They marching methodically down the field grinding out phase after phase until with no time left they found themselves on the five-metre line.
The Jackals were coming off a massive win over the Salmon Arm Manthers, while the Harlequins were well rested after enjoying a bye. Vernon came out of Pentiction early in the season with a 10-point victory.
“In the early going, it was clear it was going to be a physical game as both teams spent a significant amount of time near their try line only to held out and pushed back by solid defending,” said Vernon veteran Bryan Cragg.
Near the 15-minute mark, Jackals veteran Josh Cooper got loose around the edge and rumbled in for the game’s first score.
The Harlequins answered quickly with a score in the corner of the end zone. A traditionally slow starting Jackals team then seemed to hit their stride and closed out the half in complete control by scoring three consecutive tries, two from VSS Panthers high school rugby coach Wade Buller.
Up 20-5, the Jackals relaxed a little and Penticton seized the opportunity with some big runs and sturdy defence by a backline built of newbies and clawed their way to a 24-20 lead by making the conversions.
“We hadn’t been trailing this late in a game since a very similar game in the 2016 league final also against Penticton,” added Cragg.
Said Penticton captain David Bellomo: “We played well as a unit and made lots of tackles. We came back from being down early but let the lead slip away in the end. There were lots of big hits and tackles. Vernon runs hard with the ball and we have to run just as hard to stop them. Credit to them for getting the momentum back at the end with some nice runs under pressure.”
Vernon gets a bye May 27 and return to league play Saturday, May 27 versus the Manthers.