The initial season battle of the Okanagan rugby titans, the Penticton Harlequins and Vernon Jackals, ended in a 15-15 deadlock last Saturday.
The same two teams met in last year’s Okanagan Rugby Union playoffs in Vernon with the Jackals prevailing in a 24-22 final and went up to finish runner’s up in the provincial finals.
Harlequins’ playing coach Brenden Ferreira described the first match of the season as “another hard-hitting encounter” which he added is the usual kind of play when the two clubs do battle.
“No one really likes a draw, but I am happy with the marker we laid down today,” said Ferreira.” 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 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, Harlequin 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 for the home side and the Jackals 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 took a three-quarter field scamper to get on the board and cut the deficit to only five points.
Halftime adjustments were key to getting back in this game for Vernon as just minutes after kick off Jackals east coast rookie Trey Horton sidestepped 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 goal-line push.
With time winding down and the Jackals needing to make something happen, big bodied back Travis Beck carried four Harlequins into the end zone to square things up late, and with neither team converting any kicks the game ended with a rare 15-15 tie.
There are a few new players on the Penticton squad this year and he said they turned in strong showings.
“We are optimistic for the year, and early signs are good,” said Ferreira.
The Harlequins will be back in action Saturday when they host the Kelowna Crows at McNicoll Park Oval with kick off at 1 p.m.