Don Deane hauls in a kick during a Jackals’ rugby practice Tuesday night at Polson Park.

Don Deane hauls in a kick during a Jackals’ rugby practice Tuesday night at Polson Park.

New teams boost Union

The Okanagan Rugby Union is starting to look exactly like that – a union.

A trio of new teams from Merritt, West Kelowna and Salmon Arm Yeti have joined the Vernon Jackals and Penticton Harlequins to form a five-team spring league that gets underway this weekend.

The Jackals open the 2011 season this afternoon (1 p.m.) against Merritt at Grahame Park.

“It’s great for our league. It gives us a lot more structure and we’re glad to welcome them to the ORU this year,” said Mike Scheller, ORU president and Jackals’ veteran.

The Jackals have been training at Polson Park over the last month, and despite missing a few key players to injuries and work commitments, Scheller is looking forward to fielding a competitive team.

“We’ve had the same core now for three, four years. It’s a good group of guys and we’re getting better and better,” said Scheller, who also coaches football and rugby at Fulton Secondary.

Key returnees include prop Jarrod Stinn, hooker Pearse Wylie and outside half Rob Miles. Scheller is also looking forward to the return of Josh Cooper.

For Miles, 34, who moved to Vernon from rugby-crazy Wales three years ago, finding the Jackals has been a blessing. It has offered him a way to stay connected to the sport he has played since age 12.

“It was good to find it. I started looking in the first week I moved here. I found these guys and I’ve been playing ever since,” said Miles, who operates a computer support business.

“The division we play in is pretty good. It’s still pretty physical. There’s big guys and everyone is pretty fit. Everyone plays at a good level and it’s good, fast rugby.”

The Jackals have also had the added bonus of training with former Team Canada prop Garth Cooke, who moved to Vernon last year. The Grand Forks native, who had more than 20 caps with Canada, including an appearance in the 2003 world cup in Australia-New Zealand, has helped with the team’s preparation. He is also going to help coach the Fulton Maroons high school team.

“He’s a great addition to the rugby community here in Vernon,” said Scheller.

The Jackals practise Tuesdays and Thursdays, 6 p.m., until July at Polson Park.

Added Scheller: “We’re always on the hunt for new players. Basically, if you’re out of high school and you want to play rugby – 18 years and older – awesome.”