Nick Boyer, center, is congratulated by his teammates after a try.
Nick Boyer (center) is congratulated by his teammates after a try. Photo by Chris Stone

Competing without seven of its original players, the San Diego Legion defeated Austin Elite 31-17 Sunday at USD’s Torero Stadium.

The Legion thus assured itself a spot in the playoffs and a chance at the league title on its home pitch. Now in third place, San Diego could do no worse than fourth place after next week’s game.

In May, USA Rugby chose seven Legion players for its national team — the highest number in the seven-team Major League Rugby professional circuit.

Fans congratulate San Diego Legion players after the winning match.
Fans congratulate San Diego Legion players after the winning match. Photo by Chris Stone

San Diego, which added players to its roster after the loss of the seven, sprinted to a halftime lead of 18-3 and never looked back.

San Diego’s three tries were scored by Nick Boyer, Pat Blair and Ryan Matyas, while Tadhg Leader had five penalty goals and two conversion goals.

Scoring for Austin were single tries by Roland Suniula and Ned Hodson, with
Timothee Guillimin claiming two conversion goals and one penalty goal.

Going into Saturday’s game, the Legion was sixth in MLR standings — but only a point behind the Utah Warriors and NOLA Gold, both with 17 total points as determined by the standard rugby union point system.

The league’s top four teams go to the playoffs June 30 at Infinity Park in the Denver suburb of Glendale. The MLR Championship is July 7 at Torero Stadium.

The Legion’s record improved to 4-3, with 20 total points.

Austin lost only one player to the USA Eagles, which beat Russia 62-13 June 9 in Denver in the first game of the Emirates Airline Summer Season and upset world No. 6 Scotland 3-29 Saturday in Houston.

The Legion’s last regular-season game is against the visiting first-place Glendale Raptors at 7 p.m. June 23.

Saturday’s game, with the home side of the 6,000-capacity bleachers packed, was televised by YurView Channel and streamed online by ESPN+.

Austin Elite players pursue Legion ball carrier in the first half.
Austin Elite players pursue Legion ball carrier in the first half. Photo by Chris Stone

Legion scrum half Nick Boyer was the announcers’ pick Sunday as Man of the Match but he credited “guys who’ve been working hard behind the scenes all season.”

“We all stuck together and said: ‘Look, we’re not going to take this club backwards,’” Boyer said. “We got to make sure this team’s in a better place when they come back and we’re in a position to win this league.”

Legion coach Rob Hoadley said getting “back to basics” helped beat Austin three weeks after losing to the same team in Texas 31-5.

“After the beating, then we lost seven of our obviously top players,” he said. “We actually recruited a few more guys. We got some local talent in. … We simplified the game plan, and we asked the guys to really work harder for each other.”

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Hoadley hailed his team’s turnover rate, “and we were trying to win the penalty count as well.”

Field position was another key to victory, he said.

“Obviously our forwards are doing a great job of finishing off the field position with good tries,” he said on the USD pitch

Hoadley said penalties were the team’s “biggest undoing.”

“That’s the only reason Austin was applying pressure — our penalties,” he said. “We’re very frustrated. We had a word with the guys at halftime.”

He said the Legion had to get its penalty count down to “progress toward championship rugby here.”