The long and winding road to becoming a Saint

There are plenty roads leading to the RDS, the home of Leinster rugby, but few will have taken the route chosen by Sam Matavesi.

The long and winding road to becoming a Saint

There are plenty roads leading to the RDS, the home of Leinster rugby, but few will have taken the route chosen by Sam Matavesi.

The Fijian hooker is likely to make his Northampton Saints – and Champions Cup – debut this weekend in Dublin, after his surprise move from Cornish Pirates late last week.

He sat in the stands for the 16-43 humbling by Leo Cullen’s men, and while that may have demoralised some players ahead of the return leg, the 27 year-old could not be any more excited about running out in the RDS on Saturday.

It’s easy to see why. Just two years ago the Royal Navy man was playing for Redruth in the National League 2, before he was picked up by Championship side Pirates.

After impressing there, he was called into the Fiji side for the first time in five years – beating France in Stade de France along the way, a performance that earned him a loan spell with Toulouse – who won the Top14 while he was there.

More? He played in Twickenham for the Royal Navy v Army game, and then was called up to Fiji’s World Cup squad, playing four games in Japan including starts against Australia and Wales.

With injuries biting at Saints, and the recent retirement of Dylan Hartley, a shock move to the Premiership leaders topped off a ‘surreal’ year, and now the Matavesi adventure is set to continue in Dublin.

“It’s a massive baptism of fire, isn’t it – it’s a massive game, a massive challenge,” Matavesi said. “One thing that works in my favour being thrown in at the deep end is that there’s not much to lose.

I’ll have so much focus on what I have to get right this week – the calls, the systems, that I won’t have too much time to think about anything else. It’s an incredible game in which to make my debut.

The odds are against Matavesi enjoying a debut victory, with Leinster having won seven of the last eight games against Saints, with a +101 points difference in the last three meetings. But the Fijian No. 2 — who was formerly a flanker — is not easily intimidated given his circuitous route to the top.

“I’ve gone a different route, it’s fair to say,” he said. “I was playing in the back row in Cornwall when I was picked up by Pirates, who were short a hooker...and I got thrown in there at the Championship deep end too, it’s a lot similar to this weekend.

“To have gone from there, to beating France in Paris, Twickenham...France again, then four games for Pirates before moving to a Champions Cup team... it’s quite a roller coaster.

“The head coach at Pirates is good friends with Chris Boyd at Saints, and when I had a few clubs interested in England and France, they had a conversation and it became apparent to Saints that I was available. They were happy to take me on and when permission was granted, it happened quite quickly.”

Matavesi watched on as Leinster dismantled Saints last Saturday, and he’s compared the challenge of facing the four time champions to what Fiji faced in the World Cup: “I was at the game against Leinster, and it’s a massive thing now for me to be thinking of playing against them,” he said.

“They are one of the best teams in Europe, so very clinical, they turned all their pressure into points on Saturday. It feels like the World Cup, which was unbelievable to play against those top teams. It’s a bit like playing Leinster — if you’re slightly off against these teams they’ll punish you.

“We played Wales and Australia and we tested them, we’re a good team, but we were still short in the end. We learned a lot and hopefully in the next year or two those lessons can be put into action.

“Beating France has been my career highlight so far, but winning in the RDS would be up there. 100%. They’re one of the best teams in Europe, so it’s a massive test.”

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