Written by Joe Harvey | Photos by Craig Boudreaux
Andrew Guerra’s unveiling as the inaugural Rookie of the Year would have come as a surprise to few.
The 23-year-old played 12 games in his first season as a professional rugby player, making 149 tackles and winning 15 turnovers for NOLA Gold as Nate Osbourne’s team finished third in the Eastern Conference.
Picked tenth overall in the 2020 Major League Rugby Collegiate Draft, Guerra came to NOLA having broken his leg playing for Notre Dame College in the February of 2020.
Having five screws and a plate put into his leg, Guerra says that his time spent recovering from that injury makes him even more grateful for the opportunity that 2021 presented.
“It is very emotional to look back at that and think that you get through moments like that in your life and it makes you even more grateful to play and I took that into this season,” Guerra told MLR.
“I knew I was going unto it and give everything that I had and make sure that I had no regrets at the end of it, it is a very gratifying season to look back on.
“The rewards are great, just to prove yourself right, to show that you can do it, because there are definitely times of doubt when you are sitting through quarantine with a broken leg.
“Getting the chance to look back at moments like that, it is very emotional and gratifying to see that your hard work pays off.”
A COACH’S FAITH
Arriving in New Orleans well ahead of the 2021 season getting underway, Guerra credits his extended time spent in Louisiana for his successes in 2021.
Working out with the players who he would call teammates in the months to come, it allowed the back-row to make an impression on the team’s coaching staff.
“I think going down there early definitely set me up for success,” The Illinois-native said. “It puts you in that environment of being around guys who are training to play in MLR. You are running around with these guys before the season even starts on your own accord.
“I am very thankful to our forwards coach, Kane Thompson, too. He is a very underrated coach in this league, he is amazing. I think for a lot of teams it is tough to give a young guy a shot because it is the unknown.
“You have players that you trust, the guys that have played for you before, but he went out on a limb and gave me the chance to play right away.
“If I was on another team, I could have had the potential, but it takes a coach to believe in you, to put you on the field and to give you the chance.
“All credit goes to Kane Thompson for just giving me the opportunity and obviously learning from him in the months I was there early, and I learned something new every week from him.”
By the season’s conclusion, NOLA were just two points away from the playoffs.
Having lost two games by one score, as well as drawing 26-26 with Old Glory DC on the opening weekend of the season, more positive results could have meant postseason rugby for the Gold as opposed to a longer summer break.
While 2021 might have been a positive season for Guerra personally, he says there was some disappointment when looking back at the season upon its conclusion but has taught him plenty ahead of 2022.
“I was pretty bummed out, because as a competitor you want to make the playoffs and to be so close and not to make it is heart-breaking,” Guerra said. “You know the team can compete, you have competed with the best teams in the league, and we have won some big matches.
“It was definitely disappointing in the beginning, but once you get the chance to sit back and reflect on the season, there are positives because we saw our success, we saw what worked for us and we also saw our downfalls.
“One thing that I have taken away from this year is that all the little things add up. We had a couple of matches at the beginning of the year that we lost by only one or two points or in the last play of the game.
“If those outcomes were one phase different, we would have gone into the playoffs. For me, it was realizing even more that those little things add up and those results at the beginning of the year add up at the end of the year.”
THINKING OF HIS SECOND HOME
In late August, New Orleans was hit by Hurricane Ida. Over 80 people died as a result of the Hurricane and Guerra, along with his USA teammates Cam Dolan, Matt Harmon and Dino Waldren were forced to watch on as the category four hurricane made landfall.
“I was sitting with all the NOLA guys, and we were all so worried about our teammates, the people we care about and a community we care so much about,” Guerra said.
“They are in our thoughts and prayers, so when we get back to New Orleans, hopefully we can do something to help out, some community outreach, going into communities and helping to rebuild.”
GUERRA THE EAGLE
Thanks to his performances in gold and white, Guerra was called into Gary Gold’s USA Eagles squad for the team’s tour of England and Ireland in early July.
Becoming the first MLR Draft pick to play international rugby, Guerra won his first cap for the Eagles against Ireland in Dublin and has made two more appearances for his country, in back-to-back games against Canada as the USA look to clinch qualification for the Rugby World Cup in France.
Coming off the bench for NOLA teammate Cam Dolan in Newfoundland and in Glendale, Colorado, the USA lost the first game 34-21 before winning the second fixture 38-16, securing a win over two legs with a 59-50 aggregate score line and making the task to qualify for the World Cup all the harder for Canada.
But, after a hard loss to swallow for the Eagles, the Eagle says that it was a blessing to have another opportunity against the Canadians just seven days later.
“The first match was disappointing, I think all of the coaches and players would say that we let ourselves down in that first match,” Guerra explained. We knew we were better than that, so it was a big challenge.
“Coach Gold was saying all week that you don’t get the opportunity too many times in rugby to right your wrongs straight away.
“To see the outcome and to see how we played that second time was really positive, because we knew we could play better, and we knew we could win that second match.”
Playing Uruguay in consecutive games on October 2nd and 9th, a win across two legs would secure the USA’s place in France in two years’ time.
“It is extremely important for us, because if you set that, then there are no more unknowns in the future for the next couple of years,” Guerra said. “We can see our schedule, see what we have to do, and set ourselves up, we are guaranteeing something and the earlier the better for us, because we can plan ahead.”