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The SD Legion Rugby Team is Making Waves, and Tackles

Written By: Louis Schuler
Photographed By: Gabi Nehring  New SD Legion Rugby Team

A budding sports team is making some big waves in San Diego. No, it’s not the sound of clashing plastic helmets marking the sign of a new professional football team to replace the now Los Angeles Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Rather, it’s the trampling of fresh grass, followed by plangent cheers from thousands of onlookers reverberating off the bleachers at University of San Diego’s Torero Stadium from the efforts of the city’s first professional rugby team: the San Diego Legion (SD Legion).

And while rugby may not be nearly as ubiquitous as any of the major sports in the United States, SD Legion have been drawing sizable crowds, which, in turn, has propelled the players forward in the team’s debut season.

According to head coach Rob Hoadley, one of the largest turnouts came towards the beginning of the year and steadily progressed from there. “Our crowds have grown, and obviously, each week there’s more at stake,” he said. “A great game was our second home game against Utah (Warriors) where we won with literally the last player of the game. And really I think the crowd got us over the line, they were unbelievable—it’s the loudest I heard this place for rugby. So that got people a lot more excited about it. So when we played last week, it was a critical week against Austin, and it was the largest crowd we had.” New SD Legion Rugby Team

That game resulted in a 31-17 win for Legion, before capping off their regular season with a convincing 23-5 victory over the previously undefeated Glendale Raptors, thereby cementing their first season with an impressive record of 5-3, and clinching a playoff berth. New SD Legion Rugby Team

This was certainly no small feat for an expansion team. Indeed, those clubs typically take time to grow across many sports. In football, when the Houston Texans began their first season, they stumbled to a 4-12 record, missing the playoffs by a wide margin. In the National Basketball Association, the Vancouver Grizzlies flouted their debut year—going 15-67. And in baseball, who could forget the New York Mets’ horrendous 40-120 season—the worst in MLB modern history.

Fortunately, that is not the case with this team, which is in large part thanks to its teacher.

Hoadley boasts an eclectic rugby background—ranging from a four-year tenure as a player for the London Wasps (and winning multiple titles from ‘05 to ‘08) to coaching both defense and offense for teams in the US and Japan. He eventually came to the US in 2016, assuming the role of a backs coach for the US national team.

Much of Legion’s success can also be attributed to their performance at home. Torero Stadium is no slouch of a venue—it’s an expansive, comfortable space, housing the university’s football, along with men’s and women’s soccer teams.

Ryan Matyas, center and wing, says the team’s undefeated record at home has a lot do with the charisma and brother-like mentality between his teammates both on and off the field. “We’ve had a really good showing here at home, a really good fan base. We’ve had two close games—Houston and Utah—it came down to the last couple minutes of the game, and it was going to be ‘do or die’ and we were able to pull out a win, [and] show our resilience as a squad and…show the heart of this team,” said Matyas. “And I think that’s what really defines us; the band of brothers we have on this squad, the respect that we have for each other not only teammates but individuals off the field.”

That shared sense of camaraderie—an undying loyalty to your teammates—is a crucial axiom to take into next season from their victory in the season finale, according to back row Drew Gaffney. “We really had that connection before the game, where we’re playing for one another. The guy to your left, the guy to your right—they’re your friends,” said Gaffney. “You’re putting your body out there for them, and they’re doing the same for you.” New SD Legion Rugby Team

The San Diego Legion will look to take their momentum and a full crew into next season, beginning January 2019, with a pre-season start date of November 2018.

Room With A View: Torero Stadium comfortably houses a max capacity of 6,000 people. New SD Legion Rugby Team

Rugby Royalty: Head coach Rob Hoadley’s career started in 1999 for the London Irish, where his team won the Powergen Cup in 2002.

Native Knowledge: If you decide to drive to the stadium, there’s free parking at the Mission Parking Structure. New SD Legion Rugby Team

Photoshoot Location: New SD Legion Rugby Team
Torero Stadium
5998 Alcala Park New SD Legion Rugby Team
San Diego, CA 92111 New SD Legion Rugby Team
619.260.7550 New SD Legion Rugby Team