Matavesi shows character and keeps smiling as he settles back in at Saints

It seemed apt that Sam Matavesi was the man to finish off the free-flowing score in the final stages of Saints' defeat at Leicester Tigers last Saturday.
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After all, here was a man who has dealt with tough times and still managed to find a way to keep going and keep smiling.

That was exactly what he did last weekend as Saints were on their way to defeat, but he still managed to bounce back from a second-half sin-binning to round off a trademark team try late on.

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It was an on-field show of character from Matavesi, who has shown plenty of it off the field after he sadly lost his father towards the end of a memorable Rugby World Cup campaign.

The Saints hooker had helped to steer Fiji into the quarter-finals of the competition, but in the week leading up to the clash with England, news came that he needed to return home.

Matavesi explained: "The week of the quarter-final I got news that I needed to come home because my dad was very ill, pretty much on his death bed, so I came back for a day and was with dad when he passed away.

"I then went straight back up to France, literally straight into training, did some lineouts, sat on a bike, next day team run and then played Sunday and was back home Monday evening.

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"It was good because my head was there and I could focus on England but then when you finish there you come down pretty quickly.

Sam Matavesi scored against Leicester last weekend (photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)Sam Matavesi scored against Leicester last weekend (photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Sam Matavesi scored against Leicester last weekend (photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

"Everyone's been incredible. The club have been incredible, friends, family.

"It was key to get those things sorted back home and then get back here and get into it."

Matavesi says there was never any doubt that he would play against England because his father, Sireli, would have wanted him to.

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"Not once," said the hooker when asked whether he thought about not returning to France for the quarter-final.

"I was coming from France and my dad was chatting to my brothers, Josh and Joel, at the time and telling them to tell me to stay in France because he didn't want to ruin my rugby.

"I was always coming back but he wanted me to play.

"When we got together at the hospital in Treliske in Cornwall, I said I was going to play and my family all said my dad wanted me to play and they wanted me to play.

"But I didn't know they were all going to come out to France as well so we all got the same flight and they presented me with my shirt, which I didn't know about, and they were there for the game, which was amazing."

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Fiji were edged out 30-24 by an England team they had beaten 30-22 at Twickenham in a World Cup warm-up match in August.

That success against the Red Rose had provided a platform for what was to come, a World Cup campaign that will live long in Fijian memories.

"The first three and a bit months with Fiji were obviously incredible," Matavesi said. "It was a very good group, coached very well.

"We were given a lot of room to be ourselves and to own that space, which is probably the first time we've had that, and it showed.

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"We won the Pacific Nations Cup with a lot of people getting chances and the coaches being open and honest about who's going to play and what our plan was.

"To beat England in the build-up to the World Cup is one of the best experiences I've ever had, and it always means a bit more, being half Cornish and half Fijian and having friends who play for England. It was amazing.

"We were then based in Bordeaux, we had a great training facility, the French people were incredible and it went really well.

"The minimum was to get to the quarter-finals and we showed ourselves really well.

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"We were probably a couple of players short of our full team when we played England but going a week forward, England deserved to win the semi-final and I don't know if we would have quite have been there against South Africa.

"It shows we can get to that next stage and now it's about how we can play more of those tests more frequently to try to get to a semi-final."

Focus has now shifted from country to club for Matavesi, who had featured off the bench in the past two matches.

He delivered a hugely impressive cameo in the win against Exeter Chiefs before playing his part at Tigers last Saturday.

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And he has been hugely grateful for how he has been given the right amount of time to get his feet back under the Saints table after a turbulent time.

"After the funeral I got back here and got into the routine again," he said.

"Dows (Saints boss Phil Dowson) won't mind me staying this but he lost his dad a few years ago and he was very open about how he went with things.

"The coaches and the players have all been amazing.

"Everyone reacts differently, but for me, getting back into the routine helps and makes me feel something else.

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"Me and my brother had times where we've had a few beers at home, had a good chat, reminisced and it's helped.

"I've loved being back here.

"You obviously want to win but I've been put in nicely, given enough time and come off the bench.

"Obviously I had a yellow card last weekend, which didn't help, but you've got to keep plugging away.

"People forget how long you're away - it's four and a half months - so when you come back into it, even though I've been here for a while now, it's like I'm behind everything.

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"The boys here are flying, they're gone, and it's small things like the lineouts that you need to get into to be up there."

Matavesi is part of a strong hooker group, which was bolstered when Saints recruited Curtis Langdon during the summer.

"Curts is a great boy, he's full of energy, he's funny, he takes the p out of himself quite a lot, he's easy to get along with," Matavesi said.

"All four of us have been having a laugh and pushing each other."

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The big games keep coming for Matavesi and Co, who welcome Harlequins to cinch Stadium at Franklin's Gardens on Friday night.

"We've got to get the breakdown right - it was terrible last week - it's a massive focus for us," Matavesi said.

"Quins have got similar players to Leicester and they can get over the ball so if we get that right, we can put our game on them and it's going to be a great Friday night."