Barbarians lose to Harlequins in Okanagan final
In the end, size did matter.
A courageous but understaffed Merritt Barbarians men’s rugby team put it all on the line against a larger and more experienced Penticton Harlequins side on Sunday, but came out on the wrong end of a 26-10 score in the Okanagan championship final played between the two teams.
An obviously jacked-up Barbarians’ squad, who had upset their Penticton rivals 29-26 three weeks earlier, came out firing on all cylinders in the first half of the hard-fought, 80-minute contest. Strong play by both the forwards and backs resulted in a pair of impressive Merritt tries by winger Cody Kightley, from 70 and then 30 yards out, and an early 10-0 lead.
Unfortunately, things started to go a little south for the Barbarians shortly thereafter as two of Merritt’s three starting front row forwards, hooker Zach Wright and prop Ryan Reid, were forced to the sidelines with game-ending injuries.
The momentum of the game gradually swung in Penticton’s favor as the Harlequins substituted freely from their 24-man roster, and kept the ball inside – far away from Merritt’s fleet-footed set of backs.
The turning point of the match, however, occurred in the final minutes of the first half when an attempted kick out-of-bounds by Merritt fullback Eric Schmidt got hung up in the wind and drifted back into the field of play.
Schmidt’s counterpart on the Harlequins immediately returned the kick deep into the Barbarians’ end and, with time running out, Penticton was able to punch over their first try and narrow the score to 10-5.
The late tally seemed to give the Harlequins a breath of new life, and at the same time take any remaining wind out of the Barbarians’ sails going into the second half.
In the final 40 minutes, a rapidly-tiring Merritt team simply could not match the offensive push and near-flawless execution of their opponents, as Penticton scored three more tries and added three converts to win the championship game in convincing fashion.
The Barbarians did not go down without a fight as the likes of forwards Riley Clark, Dustin Rubner, Stu Woodman and playing-coach Tom Wigglesworth , along with backs Sam Carroll and Jonathan Cooke valiantly attempted to stem the Penticton rush.
“We just exerted relentless pressure,” stated Harlequins’ captain and scrum half Brad Martin when asked about his team’s turnaround following a slow start. “We forced our opponents to play our ‘crash’ game.”
Martin, who acknowledged that his team’s superior numbers certainly helped in the war of attrition on the field, was full of praise for a Merritt side that never gave up.
“I applaud them. They played hard, and certainly deserved to be here. It’s quite amazing that the team is just in its second year of existence.”