Rugby Returns to San Diego, Ready to Galvanize a Legion of Fans
April 5, 2018
By Zach Engberg
On Saturday, April 7, professional rugby will return to America’s Finest City when the San Diego Legion of the newly-minted Major League Rugby play host to the Houston Sabercats.
The Legion were the seventh and final team to join the MLR, which is the second attempt at an American rugby league. The last, the PRO Rugby league, made it only one season before shutting down in January 2017.
The Legion, who will play at Torero Stadium at University of San Diego, will attempt to have more success than the San Diego Breakers, who went 4-0-8 in their lone season.
The team will be bringing in talent, especially from the states, with seven players from the USA Rugby Sevens Eagles, which just won its first-ever tournament stateside last month.
The Legion will also bring back two main components from the Breakers in Mike Te’o, who led the team in tries, and Matt Hawkins, a mainstay in the San Diego rugby scene.
Hawkins, the general manager and president of the team has roots in San Diego, playing for the Old Mission Beach Athletic Club when he came to the states from South Africa. Hawkins also coached the San Diego State rugby team, was an assistant coach for the Breakers, and leads youth programs in San Diego.
Benjamin Cima, who will play the fly back position for the Legion, said he is excited to see rugby develop in the United States.
“The athletes are here, and the fan base is here if we do it right,” Cima said.
Cima, the third-youngest player on the Legion at 21 years of age, has spent time working with the Torrey Pines junior varsity rugby club alongside Legion teammate Ryan Matyas, and said he is astounded by the young talent in San Diego.
“(The) kids playing in San Diego that have amazing skills,” Cima said. “It’s amazing to see how much structure they have and how much it’s changed since I’ve grown up.”
Cima began playing when he was six years old in Argentina, where rugby is a national pastime, before moving to the U.S. a few years later.
Cima said that just as rugby is beginning to see grassroots movements across the U.S., he sees San Diego as a potential hotbed for a burgeoning rugby community.
“Hopefully this league will get that going in the right direction,” Cimsa said.
Cima said he is especially excited about reaching out to the hispanic community here.
“We’re trying to engage the hispanic community down here,” Cima said. “I do think the hispanic community can get into rugby scene. Rugby is so popular in Central and South America, and I’ve seen a lot of excitement around it here.”
There are a lot of potential fans and future players at large after the departure of the Chargers last year.
Cima said rugby will be a good replacement for the many fans that lost something when the Chargers left for Los Angeles.
“People love violence,” Cima said. “It’s a fact.”
The Legion’s eight-game regular season will begin on Sunday, April 22 at 5 p.m.