31 January 2024
Matavesi looking for more of the same in 2024
Written by C Wearmouth
Sam Matavesi is hoping that the next 12 months can be a repeat of a 2023 he will never forget.
The 12 months were filled with memorable moments, from helping the Royal Navy win their first Inter Service Championship since 2016, through to starting for Fiji in their first ever win over England at Twickenham and reaching the Rugby World Cup quarter finals, and helping Northampton Saints into the Champions Cup knockout stages and to the top of the Premiership Rugby table.
“It’s been incredible,” he acknowledged. “To get to a World Cup quarter final with Fiji for the first time in 16 years is a massive achievement, and then to come back to the Saints – where the boys have been on fire – and to the top of the Premiership and our group in Europe is absolutely massive.
“Hopefully it continues!”
Last year’s tournament in France was the 32-year-old’s second experience of the Rugby World Cup. The win over England, together with successes over Tonga and Japan and a competitive outing against France, meant that the Flying Fijians went into the Rugby World Cup with plenty of expectation from rugby supporters across the world.
Head coach Simon Raiwalui’s build-up was well publicised, notably for how it connected the team with a nation whose recent rugby focus had been on the World Sevens Series and Olympic campaigns.
Matavesi said that Raiwalui gave the playing group focus, and drew parallels with both his club and the Royal Navy squads.
“That’s probably why Fiji have been so good, I think, is the culture,” he added. “What was created by Simon and the team of coaches was going back to the roots and our villages. We wanted to give the people of Fiji a team to be proud of.
“At Saints a lot of the core group have been together for a long time and it’s been building. We knew we were good, and now everyone is seeing that.
“It’s tough to be at a World Cup and have a foot in both camps. Obviously you can keep an eye and see how the performances are going, but to come back in when everyone is flying is incredible. A lot of the boys play with a lot of confidence and freedom, putting their hands up.”
The Navy’s Senior Men start their build-up for the 2024 Inter Service Championship in February with matches against Oxford and Cambridge Universities, Cornish Pirates and Cornwall.
Expectations are high, and while Matavesi – whose skillsets see him as likely to wear dark blue in the back row as in the number 2 shirt – acknowledges the desire to win back-to-back
Inter Service Championship titles for the first time since the early-1970s, he also said that there are plenty of other challenges to face, too.
“There’s a good group of players in the Navy, and the Navy has been good in letting them explore different levels of rugby, like the Army and RAF,” he said. “It rubs off on everyone else, and the more people you can get playing better levels of rugby it can only help the team.
“What we need is to back it up. We’ve got the French and then the RAF before the Army at Twickenham. We’ve not beaten the French in France since 2002, so there are a lot of things still to do for this group.
“It’s tough for me because I can’t be with the group day in, day out, but I owe it to them to make the effort to get there and be at games, so the boys can see that I’m involved as much as anyone.”
Images by Alligin Photography