We sat down with Northampton Saints hooker Sam Matavesi ahead of the men in Black, Green and Gold’s trip to Bath Rugby this weekend in Round 23 of the Gallagher Premiership…
Q: Looking back at the European Challenge Cup defeat at Gloucester, did Northampton Saints leave ourselves too much to do after falling 21-0 down?
SM: If you give any team in the Premiership a 21-point lead after 20 minutes, it’s going to be tough. Then you factor in a red card [for Dan Biggar] and a yellow card [for Alex Coles] and it’s going to be even tougher. If you head down to Gloucester and they get on top, with their crowd behind them, and get momentum, then it becomes a real struggle. But the problem, when we looked at it, was that we didn’t front up as much as we wanted to. That’s probably the worst thing because you can take being beat by a good side if you play well – that’s life – but when you get beat and not front up physically, that was the worst thing for us that day.
Q: How frustrating was it to go out of the competition in that manner?
SM: There are some big teams in the Challenge Cup; Saracens are in it, Toulon as well, so there are no easy wins and you have to give it the respect it deserves. Not only that, everyone wants to win trophies. It’s public knowledge now that a few players are moving on at the end of the season, and you want them to go out on a high. You want to give the boys that have been here for a long time and put a lot into the group a great send off. So it’s not nice to lose and go out, but we’re still very much in the race for the Premiership and we have to focus on that now.
Q: That brings us to Saturday’s match at Bath. They didn’t have a good result last weekend either, but are they a better team than the one you faced in the reverse fixture in December?
SM: I think Bath have said it themselves that they’ve got a very good team of individuals. They’ve got some very good players and the biggest thing for us is that it’s going to click for them at some stage, but we don’t want them to click against us. If it clicks for them, they’re going to put teams away because they’ve got so much quality. We’ve got some very good messages from last weekend about things we can focus on, and for us it’s more about mindset than anything. You’d argue that’s an easier fix and if we can get things right that we didn’t get right against Gloucester, we should be there or thereabouts. Under Boydy, we’ve never won at Bath. You can go to any away game and it’s never easy, and they are also a very good team. It’s a massive task and we have got to be on it from the off. We need a reaction from ourselves as well, from the game last weekend.
Q: Chris Boyd said after the win against Bristol Bears that Saints are playing knock-out rugby from now until the end of the season. Is that how you see it as well?
SM: We want to be in the top four, we don’t make any secrets of that. We didn’t quite do it last year and this year, again, there are some boys going who we want to send off on a high. Not only that, but you want to play in the big games as well – you want to play in semi-finals and you want to play in finals. It’s a massive game for us at the weekend.
Q: The match at The Rec could also be your 50th in a Saints shirt…
SM: When I first came here, I really didn’t think I’d be reaching that milestone so quickly. It’s the best job in the world if you’re involved every week and a lot of people don’t see that there are about 30 boys who don’t play. I’ve been in both of those situations. It’s a great Club, I’m really happy here, so to represent Saints 50 times is massive for me and I’m very proud of that.
Q: It may have coincided with a strange time for everyone, but have these last two years exceeded your expectations?
SM: It’s been tough, but it’s been lucky in the sense that when Covid first hit, we had a few months of doing nothing because we were sent home and given training programmes and stuff. We then came back into a really strict environment, where you were only allowed four guys in the gym at a time and you had your own lifting platform, where you stayed – you didn’t actually move around the gym. You then walked outside to the training pitch, touched nothing, got in your car and went. To think that you’ve come from that and gone back to full crowds, and a bit of normality, is crazy. But we were lucky that we got to play and do our job when a lot of people didn’t have that privilege. We were still allowed to come in and see all the boys every day, while we still got to play at the weekend.
Q: How much do you feel you have come on as a player in these 50 games?
SM: I’d like to think loads. As you get more comfortable in your surroundings, you come out of your shell a bit more. I’d like to think I’ve come out of my shell a bit more in the team. I’m not just happy to be here because I want to win things and win every game, but I want to get to 100 games now, that’s the next thing. I want to play in this shirt for as long as I can.
Q: You’ve recently been joined at Saints by your brother, Joel, how is he settling in?
SM: He’s being going awesome. I think the biggest thing is he plays in the backs, while I play in the forwards, and previously he’s played with our older brother, Josh, and they both played in the same position. In that situation, you’re constantly in each other’s presence all the time. The perfect thing here is we head into training differently and he does his own bits with the backs, while I do the forwards’ bits. Then when you’re actually out on the pitch, it’s quite nice because we haven’t done it yet. Personally, I just hope that I get to play in a first-team match for Saints with him. That’s the dream.
Q: He's been living with you as well, hasn’t he?
SM: He’s obviously come up at pretty short notice, so the logical thing was for him to move in with me, my wife and kids. He’s a good uncle and he can cook, so it’s so far, so good!
Q: You have also represented the Royal Navy in the Inter-Services Championship recently, how was that experience?
SM: We had a week off at Saints that was scheduled because of Europe and I went down to Norton Manor in Taunton, which is where the 40 Commando Royal Marines are based, and the Royal Navy rugby team are based there. We played the RAF at Ealing on the Saturday and we beat them 18-10, which sets us up against the Army at Twickenham next week. I’ve played in three matches against them before and it gives a lot of servicemen and women the chance to experience Twickenham with a full crowd. They get a bit of time off their jobs to do something very special. For the hard work and dedication they show throughout the year, I think it’s an awesome ending for it.