29 Nov 2021 | 10:48
Eric Howard has been a part of the NOLA Gold since the first year of Major League Rugby. The hooker has been ever-present for Nate Osbourne’s team since 2018 and made 10 appearances for the side in 2021.
Currently on tour with Canada in Belgium, the 28-year-old discussed the team’s recent loss to Portugal, NOLA’s most recent campaign and his hopes for 2022 with majorleague.rugby.
LAST MINUTE DEFEAT
Coming off the bench against O Lobos on Saturday afternoon in Lisbon, it was a 78th minute try that felled Canada. Two second half tries from the LA Giltinis’ Corey Thomas had given Kingsley Jones’ team a narrow lead heading into the closing stages of the encounter.
In the closing stages Portugal turned the ball over, kicked and won the footrace to the ball, with Manuel Cardoso Pinto the man to hand his country a maiden win over Canada.
“It is definitely disappointing, because you feel like when you mount a comeback like that, when you have been down two tries, then you get ahead, to lose at the end of the game definitely stings a lot,” Howard said.
“But hats off to Portugal. They battled hard, they worked hard, so all you can really do is look back at what happened, look back and what you can improve on and just focus on Belgium.”
It has been a difficult campaign for the Canadians on a whole, who in recent weeks have missed out on qualification for the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.
Losing out to Chile in a decisive qualifier, Howard believes that all he and his international teammates can do is continue to improve with the 2027 World Cup in mind.
Photo by Armando Tura
“You are always looking at continuing to build,” he said. “I don’t think any team in the world can say there is nothing they have to do after looking back at film on a Monday.
“Every week we are saying we can do better, what we can sure up, what was good and what our strengths were.
“You can just keep building and building, and with a young team like this you are still trying to find your stride a bit and trying to find that cohesion.
“I think we are on the right path and losses to Chile and Portugal haven’t been great, but I don’t think it is anything we can dwell on. We just have to keep pushing forward and trust the guys we have.”
Each year of Howard’s time representing New Orleans in MLR can be categorized by one thing: missing out.
In 2018 the team was merely five points from the playoffs, in 2019 that gap was just one point and in 2021 it was two points again that kept NOLA out of playing postseason rugby.
Always the bridesmaids and never the bride in the three full seasons of competition, there is an audible grimace from the Ontario native when asked about the season just gone.
“It’s frustrating,” he said, “because we have put in so much work and so much effort. We feel the team is building in a great way.
Photo by Craig Boudreaux
“Andrew Guerra was amazing for us, so was Devin Short and we had guys like Billy Stewart stepping up. With us bringing in Carlos Spencer (as attack coach in 2022), as frustrated as we might be about the last season, you have to think that we are building.
“We are going in the right direction and the first step of making the playoffs is very nearly there. That is something we are confident that we can do, as long as we stick to our system, play right and play within our abilities.”
LOOKING TO 2022
2021 was of course, not without its highlights. As Howard mentioned, the rise of Andrew Guerra was a highlight, although the 2020 draft pick will not be available for a large chunk of next season after sustaining a serious leg injury against the All Blacks in October.
Forwards coach, Kane Thompson, has had his efforts recognized by the nation he used to represent, Samoa, the 39-year-old accompanying the nation on their tour of Europe currently.
Matt Harmon and Moni Tonga’uiha have both won their first Eagles caps following strong individual campaigns, as Dino Waldren’s warranted a return to Gary Gold’s squad. Lockie Kratz’s efforts have meant that he has joined Howard in Canada camp and top three draft pick in 2020, Brian Nault, went on tour to South America with the USA Selects.
A highly competitive and combative team, NOLA are hoping to break their playoff luck next season.
Photo by Craig Boudreaux
After the 2022 schedules were released on Tuesday 9, we now know that NOLA will be opening up their season with three consecutive home games, the first of which coming against the New England Free Jacks.
Howard has signed a one-year extension to remain at the Gold Mine for at least one more season, with the biggest offseason recruit so far being former All Black, Carlos Spencer.
As mentioned by Howard, bringing in the man referred to as ‘King Carlos’ is going to strengthen some aspects that might be the difference between finally making the playoffs or missing out again.
“We are hoping that we get to the playoffs,” Howard said. “I think with us getting Carlos Spencer, it will just help us get a bit more direction and get the forwards and the backs doing the same thing too.
“Having that bit more direction, a bit more clarity, sharpening up certain things in our game I think will do that. We can definitely be playoff contenders.
“It is just going to be looking forward to that, keeping it in the back of our minds, looking at all the small things like extra fitness, extra passes to help get us there.”