Rugby Q&A: USA Rugby Star Andrew Suniula

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NOTE: This interview was conducted just before Scotland beat Team USA in Houston… Andrew hurt his leg in the match and is awaiting MRI results. Needless to say, we wish him a speedy recovery.

as1RWU HQ – Prior to the aforementioned USA-Scotland clash, I had the chance to chat with USA Eagles inside center Andrew Suniula. With that, it’s our pleasure to bring you this latest RWU Rugby Q&A. Enjoy!

Q: Thanks for taking the time to be with us, Drew.
A: You’re welcome.
Q: When did you first start playing rugby?
 A: I started playing rugby when I switched primary/elementary school at 10 or 11 years-old. I was playing soccer up to that point.
Q: Who had the biggest influence on you from a rugby point of view growing up?
A: I was quite lucky to have my brother Jarrett play. I started playing because my friends at school were playing, but mostly because he started playing with his friends, making representative teams and went to a really strong rugby school (Kelston Boys High). He had an unfortunate injury early in his career but he set the standard for me as an athlete and a rugby player early on and all I had to do was follow suit.

Q: Living in the American Samoa, where there is a huge American Football influence, why did you lean toward rugby?
A: Never heard of rugby till we moved to NZ. It was all football, Michael Jordan and WWE wrestling in the island back then.

Q: Even though you are older than both Roland and Shalom, did you all start playing rugby at the same time? Who’s the best player? Who’s the best athlete?
A: We grew up in an area (Auckland) where everyone was either playing rugby, league or both so it was inevitable that we would be dabbling in those sports early on. As we got into middle and particularly high school, we all started playing more and more following the older bros. Jarrett in his prime was an awesome athlete. Shalom had all the talent and Roland had all the girls.

Q: Did the rugby bond bring you and your two brothers closer together? What was the bond that the three of you shared?
A: I would say playing for the Eagles and representing USA Rugby has brought us all closer together.

Q: You originally started playing rugby union for Taranaki in 2005 and then switched to rugby league in 2007 to play with the Auckland Lions. Why did you make the switch initially?as2
A: I was playing league in Auckland before moving to Taranaki NPC. An opportunity came up to go back home and play so I took it. That same year I signed to join a successful Manly Sea Eagles team for a couple of seasons so the move really paid off.  

Q: You then went back to rugby union in 2010 for the Chicago Griffins. Why the switch back?
A: I switched back to union because of the opportunity to play in a Rugby World Cup. That move also paid off.

Q: Do you favor one version of the game over the other?
A: I enjoy both games coz of their different challenges. I sometimes do miss playing league though.

Q: So you’ve been playing rugby for Team USA since 2008. Can you remember the first time you put on the red, white, and blue to represent our country in a match? What was that like? What were some of the feelings you had?
A: Of course. I remember my first test vs Japan in Naguoya. I was really nervous for the test, but for many other reasons too. Bit of a long story but I remember being super nervous that weekend.
as4Q: Do you still have those feelings and get those butterflies when you put that jersey on years later?
A:  I always get butterflies before running out for the Eagles, singing the national anthem and going to battle with my boys.

Q: American Samoa is now recognized by the IRB as an independent union. Did you see their performance at the HK7s? Will this effect USA Rugby and the number of future players that can now choose who to represent?
A: I wasn’t aware of it being an independent union.

Q: Without asking you to knock your brothers [too much] what does each of you do differently than the others in terms of play?
A: We all bring something different to the table and it’s usually up to the coaches to choose which to use. But we all read the game similarly and play off each other well from that.

Q: Is there a realistic possibility of seeing a Shalom at 9, Roland at 10 and yourself at 12 for the USA anytime soon?
A: If we all stay fit, healthy and in good form we could see that and hopefully before I am done playing.

Q: From humble begins in the backyard to now a pro rugby player, it has been a great journey. Can you tell me what comes to mind we we ask…
1) What would you title your autobiography?as5
A: Name title…
2) What have learned in this journey?
A: Learn from your mistakes, take nothing for granted, embrace where you are at that time and be grateful for what you already have.
3) Advice from a teammate or coach that stuck with you?
A: The coach when I first made a representative team at 13 said “Don’t tell me -show me!

Q: When you signed your first professional contract with the Cornish Pirates, what did you do with your first paycheck?
A: My first pro contract was actually with the Taranaki Rugby Union. Got a signing bonus and bought mom a new washing machine. It was the greatest feeling in the world.

Q: Good man! What can you tell us about the Penzance and Newlyn Rugby Football Club?
A: We had a strong Pirates team. We were tight off the field because there was nothing else to do in Penzance. Essentially, we were tighter on the field for it and had a lot of success. A few guys from that team have gone on to play test rugby, including one tonight when we face off against Scotland.

Q: Was the weather worse for rugby in Chicago or Cornwalll?
A: Played a game in three-feet of snow and negative a thousand degrees with wind-chill that pierced through the bones. Still couldn’t feel my feet the following week and borderline hypothermia. Hands down Chicago was the worse.

Q: JWB and Matt McCarthy played with the your Griffins at the Aspen Rugger Fest about 6 years ago. Do you play in Tourneys like that? Will you play Old Boys Rugby?
A:  My first game for the Griffins was at the Fort. Lauderdale Rugby Festival. It’d be nice to play at the Aspen Ruggerfest. I’ve heard it’s a blast.

as3Q: Taking a step away from rugby for a minute… If you could play on one reality TV show, what would it be?
A: Amazing Race.

Q: If you were trapped on an island and could bring any three items, what would they be?
A: A lighter, knife and Wi-Fi

Q: If you could have dinner with any three people, living or dead, who would they be?
A: My late dad, his grandkids he hasn’t seen and the rest of my family.

Q: What’s your pregame mixtape?
A: Island Reggae to old school Hip-Hop.

Q: Finally, why do you continue to play rugby?
A: I love playing the game and competing at the highest level with my teammates and my brothers.

Q: Great answer. Thanks, Andrew.
A: Thank you.

That’s it for now. Feel free to comment below, please look for andLike” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@:RugbyWrapUpJunoir Blaber, Nick HallJames HarringtonJamie Wall, Jaime LoydDJ Eberle, Cody KuxmannKaren RitterJake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.

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DJ Eberle is easily the largest of the RWU Team; Offensive Tackle Large. In fact, this Albany native played OT for Western New England University until he graduated in 2014. Like Junoir Blaber, he's moonlights on MeetTheMatts.com. His Dad played prop with Johnathan Wicklow Barberie and Matt McCarthy - who also in a MeetTheMatts.com moonlighter. DJ's cross to bear, however, is his love for the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres. There is hope, though, that his genetic inclination for Rugby, will cure him of that! Follow him on Twitter: @DJEberle66

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