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St. Joseph's rugby squad an underdog

It honed its technique in Ireland. Now it will play for a U.S. title.

Two months ago, the St. Joseph's Prep rugby team was in Ireland, learning techniques, working basic skills with international coaches, and seeing the Cliffs of Mohr.

Tomorrow morning at 10, the Hawks will play Jesuit High School of Sacramento, Calif., the top seed and multiple national champion, at USA Rugby's high school national championships at Founders Field in Pittsburgh.

The St. Joe's team, which was started in 2005, is making its first appearance at the championships. The Hawks are seeded eighth among eight teams.

The event has three divisions: boys' high school, boys' under-19, and girls' under-19.

The St. Joe's team, thanks to a delayed flight from Newark, N.J., missed a scheduled tour of the Guinness brewery in Dublin but raved about the fundamentals the players learned in the rugby-crazed nation.

The Hawks' five captains - Tyler Dewechter, Eric Miller, Bryan Thompson, Mike Farren and Nolan Grady - said the 10-day trip, which included stops in Dublin, Galway and Limerick, fueled a fundamentals-first approach to the season.

Rugby is still considered a club sport at St. Joe's. Assistant coach Brian McCloskey said the program was started to provide an alternative for athletes who might not make, or desired an alternative to, the traditional spring sports of baseball, lacrosse and crew.

As for the match against Jesuit, which won titles in 1999, 2004 and 2006, the Hawks embrace their underdog status.

"We're like Rocky," said Miller, who will play next year at Penn State.

"We're totally down with being the underdog," said Grady, who will play at Gonzaga.

All five St. Joe's captains took part in sports before, including baseball, lacrosse, track and hockey. But all hailed their newfound love as the ultimate in sportsmanship and teamwork.

"Nothing works in rugby without everyone pushing in the same direction," said Farren, who's headed to Scranton next year.

"It's a hooligan's game played by gentlemen," Grady said. "As opposed to soccer, which is a gentleman's game played by hooligans."