Vernon Jackals veteran Bryan Cragg (with ball) tries to avoid a Penticton Harlequins defender with Kyle Richardson in support during Okanagan Rugby Union season-opening action in Penticton. Both teams played to a 15-15 draw. (Jordyn Thomson - Black Press)

Vernon, Penticton play to hard-fought ORU draw

Defending Okanagan Rugby Union champion Vernon gets late try for 15-15 draw with rival Harlequins

The Vernon Jackals and Penticton Harlequins have a long history of hard-fought, closely contested games in the Okanagan Rugby Union.

Saturday was no exception in the Peach City, as the Jackals and Harlequins played to a 15-15 draw in the season-opening game for both clubs.

Vernon has defeated Penticton in each of the last three league championship encounters, including last year’s 24-22 Jackals victory.

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Trailing 15-10 in the dying minutes, large Jackals back Travis Beck carried four Harlequin defenders with him over the try line to give Vernon the tie.

The Harlequins came out as expected and used their larger forwards to grind down the Jackals defence, and took advantage of a handling error by Vernon in their own end, and, before the 10-minute mark ‘Quin captain Nigel Dixon plunged in for the game’s first score.

The early game jitters continued for the defending champs as they committed turnovers and penalties for the remainder of the first half and allowed another forward try to the home side, going down 10-0. It took until the final play before the halftime whistle for the Jackals to show signs of life when Bryan Cragg hit a seem deep in their own end and took a three-quarter field scamper to get on the board and cut the deficit to only five.

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“Halftime adjustments were the key to getting back in this game,” said Cragg.

Just minutes after kickoff Jackals East Coast rookie Trey Horton side-stepped a defender on his way to a 30-yard score on the sideline to even things up. The next 20 minutes were fairly back-and-forth with the Harlequins stealing multiple scrums and benefiting from some timely penalty calls which allowed them to grease in one more try with a goalline push, setting the stage for Beck’s heroics.

“It was a fitting way to kick off a season that looks to be dog fight throughout,” said Cragg.

Added Harlequins palying coach Brenden Ferreira: “It was another hard-hitting encounter which is the norm when the two clubs do battle. No one really likes a draw, but I am happy with the marker we laid down today. As the season progresses I know we will improve. We have a bigger squad this year and have built on the structures we implemented last year.”

The Jackals play their home opener Saturday at 1 p.m. at Grahame Park when they host the Salmon Arm Yeti.

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