We sat down with Sam Matavesi after the Northampton Saints hooker penned a new contract at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens this week, looking ahead to a make-or-break fixture against Saracens on Saturday…
Q: How happy are you to have signed a new contract at Northampton Saints?
SM: This is a place I love – my family and kids are settled here and if you play most weeks, it’s one of the best jobs in the world. I’m really happy, I never saw myself being here for this long – not when I first arrived! I went straight in for the first two weeks [in 2019] then had a four-month lay-off where I didn’t get picked and then out of the blue, I got a chance and I’ve sort of been in ever since.
Q: You got your chance in the Gallagher Premiership relatively late compared to other players, does that give you the attitude of relishing every week?
SM: A hundred per cent. I think when you first come into it, you have a little bit of Imposter Syndrome. It’s a bit of a random one but I recently watched a Lewis Capaldi documentary, and obviously overnight he became a star. It’s a different level but I like to think that I can play at this level now and it’s just how much better can I be than last week, the week before or the year before. Last year I played 32 games and instead of trying to be an eight out of 10 every week, you’re almost a six, whereas having a bit of time off this year has given me more time to work on things and improve on them.
Q: You have been away with the Royal Navy in recent weeks, what do you get up to while you’re playing for them?
SM: I get a lot of stick because I’m a ‘tracksuit sailor’ but we met on a Sunday and then played the French [Marine Nationale] on the Wednesday, then I was back up here and the following week was a full week’s prep before playing the RAF. It was Monday-Tuesday training, Wednesday off, Thursday-Friday training and playing on Saturday. Obviously, it’s a change of environment – I don’t think the people in the Navy will mind me saying this, but for them rugby’s second and what they do with the Navy is first. So, it’s different in terms of the standard of training, and things like that, but it’s an awesome environment to be involved in. There are awesome lads and you hopefully get a chance to play in the Army vs Navy game which is usually a sell-out at Twickenham. It’s the pinnacle of the Inter-Services.
Q: Now you’re back, there is a huge game to look forward to against Saracens at the weekend…
SM: It is a huge game and if we want to be fourth, then we’ve got to beat these next two teams, home and away. We’ve got the team that’s top of the league this week and then next week we go to a team near the bottom of the league [Newcastle Falcons] but are beating most teams up at their place. They are two massive challenges, but if we’re worthy of fourth place, then we’ve got to beat them both.
Q: Are Saints relishing the challenge of the next couple of weeks? You are kind of in a similar position to last season, when a late run of wins allowed you break into the top four…
SM: I think the week off probably helped us, especially with the England boys coming back. Someone like Luds [Lewis Ludlam] has played consistently, as have some of the boys here as well, so the boys are a lot more refreshed and it’s been a good week of training.
Q: You of course recently returned from a hamstring injury, which was probably your longest spell out of action since you signed?
SM: It was my first big injury! I’ve never been out for that period of time ever – it was nine weeks overall. It was just about dealing with the injury, and my missus said to me, ‘I thought you’d be a bit worse than that.’ I think because you’re pretty much in at quarter-past seven and done by 11, you’re not with the boys, you’re not in team meetings. They’re obviously getting ready for the main session and you’re with the physios and seeing S&C coaches before, but the world doesn’t stop. Robbie Smith has been unreal and has been class every week, so things don’t stop and knowing that means you’ve got to come back better than how you were before you got injured. If I wanted to get injured, I’d say it was the right time – obviously, you never want to get injured, but I’d rather be back fit now and hopefully there will be more to come in the summer [with Fiji].
Q: Players don’t necessarily make the best watchers, what would you say you’re like on the sidelines?
SM: It’s tough because you’re injured, but these are your mates you’re watching and some games, like Munster away and La Rochelle here, you just want the boys to do well. I also went to Leicester away and that was unbelievable – me and Joel [Matavesi] were in the crowd and we were pretty excited to see us win there. You’d rather be around the boys in that environment and I definitely prefer being involved to watching.
Q: There are some suggestions Saracens might be leaving a few players out on Saturday, but does that really make a difference due to the depth of their squad?
SM: They’ve got such a good squad, haven’t they? They’re top of the table and I think they’ve been unreal in the Prem this season. I watched their game against La Rochelle at the weekend and it was pretty tough for them. It’s a hard place to go – as we know from the start of the year – but I think when all good teams have a result like that, I think whoever they bring is going to be pretty up for it this weekend.
Q: It’s set to be Mike Haywood’s last competitive game at the Gardens before he retires, what was he like in terms of helping you settle in after you joined?
SM: A pain in the ass! The best bit about him is he is a competitor and if you get a thing wrong in training or you’re an inch off it, he’ll let you know, and he’ll let everyone else know as well, so there’s no hiding place. To be here for a few years now and get to know him, he’s a top, top boy. You don’t play at this level and be at one Club for so long and play so many games without being class, and he is.