The Merritt Barbarians men’s rugby team must be feeling a bit snake-bitten when it comes to games against their arch-rivals, the Penticton Harlequins, this season.

For the second time in as many meetings, the Barbarians lost to last year’s league champions largely due to a controversial ref’s call.

Leading by four points in the late stages of the game played in Penticton on Sunday, the official called out ‘Last play’ only to allow another couple of minutes of action to take place (including a lineout), and the Harlequins to score a late, late try and steal the win, 34-33.

Six weeks ago, in their opening game of the Okanagan Union season, the Barbarians had another questionnable ref’s call go against them, resulting in an 18-14 setback to the Harlequins.

“It’s a real shame,” said Barbarians player-coach Nathan Brigden of Sunday’s setback, “because we probably played our best game of the year.

“After the game, the ref apologized to our whole team for his blown call, but it still goes into the books as a loss.”

The one-point defeat overshadowed a “real gutsy effort by the whole team,” Brigden said. “The guys played their hearts out.”

Despite only 15 healthy bodies, Merritt took the match to Penticton in the early going, and were leading 21-10 at the break. The first half featured two long runs for tries by Eric Schmidt (who scored 28 of his team’s points) and the first try as a Barbarian by Kyle Lamourand.

“Unfortunately, penticton was the better team in the second half, and they gradually wore us down,” Brigden said.

Merritt’s next game is on Sunday, June 16, when they host Garth Cook, Trevor Miyazaki and the Vernon Pan-thers.