Josh Matavesi believes stability and continuity will be the hallmarks of Newcastle Falcons’ 2018-19 campaign as they look to build on their best season in 20 years.
The centre was a cornerstone of the side which made the semi-finals of the Premiership, European Challenge Cup and Anglo-Welsh Cup last term, and is aiming to reach the next level as he enters the third week of pre-season training.
“Pre-season is going really well,” said the Fijian international, who joined the Falcons from Welsh side Ospreys a year ago.
“I’ve made a conscious effort to come back in really good shape, which makes it a lot easier when you’re doing the fitness testing and training, and I’m not too far away. That’s compared to last year when I came in at 120kg, and I had a lot of catching up to do.”
Hitting the ground running after forming part of the Barbarians side which defeated England 63-45 at Twickenham on the last weekend in May, the 27-year-old said: “Playing for the Barbarians was a bit of an added bonus, to be honest. I didn’t really know about it until the Friday before we met up on the Sunday, but I’d always wanted to play for the Baa-Baas and it was a bit of a bucket list moment.
“I was in a back line with some world class players, I was like a sponge just trying to pick up bits from all of them and it was a real privilege. I was told I’m only the second Cornishman ever to play for the Barbarians, so it was quite big news back home, and that meant a lot to me. To be in a side with the likes of Victor Vito, Malakai Fekitoa, Josua Tuisova, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, Chris Ashton and Semi Radrada – it was good to be in the mix with them and to put a few points on England.”
Giving an insight into Newcastle Falcons’ summer workload as he and his team-mates put their nose to the Kingston Park grindstone, Matavesi explained: “The first block of pre-season is mainly just getting the physical aspects done, building up your base.
“We’ve been off for four or five weeks after our Premiership semi-final, and the strength and conditioning coaches have made a conscious decision to slowly build us back in. Week one was pretty relaxed, mainly testing and getting your base line, and weeks two, three and four are about more running and weights.
“We’ve also done a lot of rugby, to be fair, and I think that’s important. We had the rugby balls out on the very first day and there has been a lot of that, but it’s combining it with the strength and conditioning which will be the foundation of all our work. We play a different brand of rugby up here and we like to play with the ball, it becomes second nature because we do it every day and I think the new signings have enjoyed that side of it.
“The fact that this is my second pre-season with the Falcons does also make things easier, for sure.
“I’m not the new guy, I know who people are and how things run, I’m familiar with the environment and it definitely helps. Having been there last season I’m making a conscious effort to make all the new guys feel welcome – as all the lads are, to be fair – and it’s basically repaying everything the boys did for me this time last season.
“The new guys seem to have slotted in easily and nothing appears to be a hassle for them, so it’s coming along nicely.”
Reporting quality rather than quantity to be the watch word, he added: “I think the good thing this summer is that we haven’t had a huge influx, it’s primarily based on the strong core of guys we already had here and Dean Richards has just made the odd astute signing to go along with that.
“The boat hasn’t been rocked too much, and you tend to find the best sides are the ones who make the fewest changes.”
Well aware that talk is cheap with two months still to go until the start of the Gallagher Premiership, Matavesi said: “No games are won and lost in July so you tend to hear people saying similar things during the summer, but that’s fine.
“We’re just quietly getting on with our work, we’re looking to improve on last season and this is the ninth or tenth summer I’ve had as a professional player. I’m not going to say too much about what might happen because it’s just noise at this time of year, but the quality of the senior academy players who have come through this season has been very noticeable, and we keep producing good young players.
“That side of it has impressed me, and my responsibility as a senior player is to ingrain them into the system so that they feel comfortable expressing themselves.”
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