The rugby rookies haven’t kept their titles for long.
The Vernon Jackals men’s rugby team is undefeated, confident, and ready to tackle the opposition (5-0).
The Jackals face off against old rival Penticton Harlequins for the Okanagan Rugby Union final, Saturday, 1 p.m., at Grahame Park.
Vernon Rugby Club president and inside centre Bryan Cragg said they’ve benefitted from the nine or 10 new bodies this season.
“Most of them are brand new to rugby,” he said.“They’ve come a long way; they’ve made a huge impact.”
The Jackals started their season against Penticton.
“It’s a nice way to round it out. Our two clubs have a lot of history,” said Cragg.
Cragg, 29, is a plumber at Vernon Jubilee Hospital and has been with the team for four years. He previously played football as a runningback.
“I was a football guy before this… this is the only sport as a grown man you can actually hit somebody,” he laughed. “My positions cross over pretty easily.”
The rookies have made a major contribution for Vernon.
“Without their bodies and energy, it would be a much different team,” said Cragg.
Rookie Josh Eyford, scrum half and wing, is in his first season with the Jackals.
Standing at 5-foot-3 with a scruffy beard, Eyford, 18, played three years of high school rugby and said there’s a significant difference with the men’s league.
“(The coaches) know what they’re talking about,” he said.
Being coached by Grant Kissling, who hails from New Zealand, has taught Eyford the importance of communication.
“You won’t go anywhere if you’re not talking,” he said.
He also finds that he’s learned about his position.
“My position has gone more in-depth, (like) vision on the field, seeing everything going on around me, really communicating with the backs and the forwards. We’ve had a pretty strong season,” he said. “I’m pretty confident,”
He enjoys playing with the Jackals and will continue next season.
“They’re just a fun group of guys to play with.”
Head coach and sub contractor Kissling, 25, has been with the Jackals for two years.
It can be challenging with new people on the team, he said with a slight New Zealand accent.
“Getting people to mix well together as well, there’s a whole variety of skills (and) getting them to mix on the field is hard.”
But the team has improved throughout the season, he said.
“You can’t really ask for a better season, hopefully we can carry it on through.
“(They’ve improved) their ball handling skills, the passing, the catching, our communication now, everyone’s talking more.”
Having a coach from a rugby-focused country gives the Jackals extra support.
“Rugby’s the New Zealand thing,” he said.
“We learn from a very young age a skill set for rugby.”
Kissling has played rugby since he was four and feels confident about the final.
“It’s going to be a tough game… I know everyone here just wants to beat them.”
Previous president Mike Scheller continues to inspire the Jackals.
“He was the main driving force behind this team for the last 20 years… it makes you want to put in the same kind of energy,” said Cragg.
The Jackals are competing for a spot at the provincial Saratoga Cup in September where competition is against the No. 1 Coastal, Kootenay and Northern teams.