Matavesi explains why he has been able to make his mark at Saints

The delight that greeted Sam Matavesi's new deal showed just how far the hooker has come since arriving at Saints in December 2019.

Wednesday, 2nd June 2021, 6:19 pm
Updated Wednesday, 2nd June 2021, 6:22 pm
Sam Matavesi

During the formative stages of his time at the club, the Fiji international was a bit-part player, getting the occasional appearance and often turning out for the Wanderers.

But since the Covid-enforced break between March and August last year ended, Matavesi has really made himself at home in the Saints front row.

He is now seemingly first choice in the No.2 shirt and has racked up 27 appearances since signing from the Cornish Pirates.

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He agreed a new two-year deal, which was announced on Wednesday, and supporters took to Twitter to hail the re-signing, many mentioning that Matavesi is the most improved player at Franklin's Gardens in recent times.

Matavesi's trademark smile widens still further when those remarks are put to him at the media day.

And he said: "It's awesome to be staying here!

"If you're happy somewhere, you want to get something sorted pretty quickly.

"A lot of players are finding out, especially where I came from in the Championship, these contracts aren't as easy to get any more, so to get something secured is big for me and my family.

"We're all happy in Northampton and it's massive - I'm really happy with it."

So just why has Matavesi been able to improve so much since making his debut against Leinster in December 2019?

"It's confidence and being able to back up performances.

"At the Pirates and other places you maybe get a few chances and it's not as hard but when you come in here, it's 100 miles per hour and no one's waiting for anyone.

"If you don't get up to speed, they're not going to slow it down so you've got to come in, put your foot forward and go.

"At the start I found it tough because there was a lot going on.

"My first start was Benetton at home and it was terrible in terms of set piece and understanding.

"I was rightly pushed back a bit after that and then I had quite a good pre-season when the whole Covid thing came in.

"I went away with Fiji and got the trust of the coaches and it's been pretty good since then."

Matavesi was initially seen as a back row option by the Saints coaches, but the player has been keen to put that notion to bed so he can simply focus on playing his part at hooker.

The 29-year-old said: "We had a few injuries against the Dragons away and they came to me and said you're going to have to cover the back row, but, straight away, I was like 'I don't want to do it'.

"It's not like playing centre or wing, it's so condensed as a hooker and I know if I can scrum well and throw lineout ball well, I'll get confidence around the park from that.

"If you come out of that completely and play back row it's all change.

"I don't mind doing it if it's a needs must but I wouldn't ever go in and say I want to play back row because I'm a hooker - 100 per cent.

"That's one thing that's helped me, having more responsibility within the front row."

So what has Matavesi liked most about his time at Saints so far?

"It's the history of the club and it's good because you know where the club's been and what it wants to achieve," he said.

"I was gutted after we lost to Ulster (in the Challenge Cup quarter-final) here because it was a massive chance for us to get some silverware.

"We can't get top four this season but top four has to be the minimum for this team.

"It's been a great year for me because I've played week in, week out in the Prem and now I know a bit of what to expect and it makes me hungry for next year.

"I want to play more games and want us to be top four minimum.

"I've fitted in really well with the boys and my family are happy so it's all pretty good at the minute."

Matavesi has balanced his rugby with a military career in the Royal Navy, and he is delighted that he has been allowed to continue his fine work at Saints.

"We were chatting on the bus after the Newcastle game and it (being in the Navy) does give you some perspective," he said.

"Even though rugby is massive and the result is massive, there's still another life out there.

"You've got to live this constantly if you want to be as good as you can be, but you've also got to be able to switch off and enjoy something else.

"It's finding a balance and having the Navy to lean on and go back to, now they've given me their backing to carry on with this, is massive."

The next mission for Matavesi is helping to manufacture another win against Exeter Chiefs, like the gritty 13-12 success at Sandy Park back in February.

"If we want to be the team we say we want to be, we've got to beat teams like that here," he said.

"We beat them away and it was probably one of my best performances.

"If we're serious about actually being a top four team, we've got to beat the likes of Exeter - and there's no better weekend than this weekend."