A professional San Diego team, the Legion, will play for a championship Sunday at the University of San Diego.
The sport will be rugby.
It’s not for the meek, rugby – even as played Sunday at a serene school named after a monk.
Grab an ice pack, in light of the preview of the title match — which CBS will televise — from Legion player Aaron Mitchell:
“It’s just two rams hitting each other in the head and see which one falls first,” said Mitchell, a Cathedral Catholic High alum who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 290 pounds.
Winner of the 1 p.m. match will be champion of Major League Rugby, a nine-team league created in 2017.
San Diego’s opponent Sunday, the Seattle Seawolves, won the title last year.
Mitchell guessed that Seattle will try to bully the home team. “They’re big and physical. They like to hang their hat on being a physical group. They have big, powerful scrums.”
As Mitchell described the Legion, which won both games against Seattle in season, the team is adept at “flying around hard and just playing good, fundamental rugby, finding a spot and attacking it.”
The Legion wears red and black, a la San Diego State.
Legion players hail from the United States, Fiji, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland. South Africa is where Legion standout JP Duplessis, a center, grew up.
“We’re a big melting pot,” said Mitchell, who grew up in Oceanside. “It’s awesome. It’s super cool to see how other people from other countries live their lives.”
Among Legion players, rugby engenders a strong camaraderie that was evident Friday at an Encinitas softball field’s outfield, where the team had just practiced.
The 30 players stood in a circle, arms linked, and belted out chants and songs. They took group selfies and shouted out happy Father’s Day greetings that were recorded.
Mitchell, who played American football as a lineman for Cathedral Catholic and Fresno State and trained briefly with the Detroit Lions, said rugby squads tend to have good chemistry because the teams are about a third of the size of an American football team and the roles are far less defined.
He said he enjoys rugby’s broader demands, compared to football.
“Both are very physical,” he said, “but rugby is fun. In rugby, everyone gets to be whatever they want. You can run around; tackle, catch, throw. I think that’s the most fun part of it.
“It’s very free-flowing,” he said.
He likened Sunday’s matchup to a Super Bowl but, unlike Joe Namath, made no prediction, other than to say “it will be a heck of a match.” As for first-time viewers of rugby, “they’ll be hooked,” he said.
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