Josh Matavesi knows Newcastle Falcons will have their work cut out at former club Worcester Warriors on Saturday if they are to preserve the best away record in the Aviva Premiership.
The Fijian centre has been a key figure for a Falcons side who find themselves fourth in the table with four games to go, Newcastle having won six of their nine road trips in the league. All of their defeats came against the top three teams in the division, Matavesi highlighting the business-like mind-set of a team who have consistently found a way to close out tight games.
“It’s important at this end of the season that you’re not thinking about what’s happening in two weeks’ time - you need to be all-out on the next game,” said the 27-year-old, who joined from Welsh side Ospreys last summer.
“For us that means we’re thinking about Worcester away and not Sale at home, and it has to be that way. Worcester have been on a bit of a roll during the middle part of the season, they’ve won away at Leicester and Exeter and you have to respect any team who can do that.
“A lot of teams struggle when they go to Sixways, I had two seasons as a Worcester player and I know how much they pride themselves on making it a difficult place to play. It’s never an easy game down there and they’re still fighting for their jobs, to support their families, so we can’t take them lightly.
“Having said all that, we’re on a roll of our own and we’re going down there to win. We’re going to roll out on Saturday with a very business-like attitude, working hard for another four or five points, and it’s all about that goal of getting on the bus back to Newcastle with another win under our belt.”
A consistent starter in the Falcons’ No 12 shirt during an impressive first season, Matavesi is keen to highlight the collective ethos which has underpinned the improvement of the league’s most northerly club.
“One of the many good things about this club is the boys, the way they’ve welcomed me in, and we love living in Newcastle. The family have settled well, everything in the area is great and it’s just a good place to be,” he said.
“I’d never say selection is nailed on because we’ve got a load of quality centres who are more than capable of taking the shirt, and you can never feel comfortable. I think that’s a good thing because it raises the standards in training, and the great thing here is that the guys who aren’t selected are incredibly supportive of the match squad.
“They’ll spend hours learning the shape and the moves of whoever we’re playing on any given week, just so that when the match squad trains we can train against something which really closely resembles our opposition. When you’re not picked for a game that’s probably the last thing you want to do, and I’ve been in dressing rooms where it has been quite divisive between the guys who are playing and those who aren’t.
“The beauty here is that the boys will just put their egos to one side, think about the team and get on with it. You need that unity in a club if you’re going to get anywhere, and we’re very lucky in that respect. Boys aren’t letting their disappointment at not being selected get in the way of our team goals, and I really admire them for that.”
Forming a potent 10-12 axis with fellow summer signing Toby Flood, the smiling Fijian said: “I’m enjoying my rugby, I feel like I fit into the team here and it’s just a good environment.
“The left-foot kicking option is something that gets mentioned by people, and what it does do is put that uncertainty into the mind of the opposition. If myself and Floody split at each side of a breakdown or scrum, they don’t know which one of us going to get it and they often have to split their defence to cover both options. It’s just another little thing which helps us create attacking opportunities, and if Floody gets caught in a ruck or whatever then I’m happy to slot into that 10 spot.”
Determined to make sure that Newcastle’s promising position does not fizzle out in the closing stages of the campaign, Matavesi said: “This is where we wanted to be at the business end of the season, and when we sat in our pre-season camp at Bishop Burton College in July we said we wanted to be alive in multiple competitions beyond Easter.
“We’ve been as good as our word on that, and although it was disappointing to have gone out in the Anglo-Welsh Cup semi-finals it’s great that we’re in the European semis and in the top four of the Premiership. We’re mentally very fresh, I don’t get the sense that any of the guys are flagging and it’s just a case of huge excitement about where we can end up.”
Already familiar with Sixways after spending two seasons there between 2012 and 2014, the Cornish-born centre added: “I’ve had great memories in Worcester, they helped me and my family with our transition from Racing Metro in France and I owe them a lot. It’s a great town and the Warriors fans are fantastic, but I have to put those feelings to one side because we’re there to do a job on Saturday.
“They’ll be looking to bounce back from their last result at Sale, they really pride themselves on their home form and it’s about how we can nail our own roles on the day. We’ve set out a game plan for this week and we need to execute it, we can’t put the team in jeopardy by just doing our own thing, but if we play to our plan we’ll be very difficult to beat.”