An emotional Josh Matavesi has bid a fond farewell to Exeter Chiefs as he prepared for a new challenge across the Channel. The 20-year-old back brought to a close his two-and-half year stint with the Chiefs by confirming he has agreed to join French Top 14 side Racing Metro.
Initially the Fijian international, who was born and raised in Cornwall, has joined on an emergency loan deal until the end of the season following an injury to Racing’s Argentinian playmaker Juan Martin Hernandez, but will then take up his two-year contract from the start of next season.
A product of Truro College and then later the Exeter Chiefs Academy, Matavesi’s first taste of senior rugby came with Penzance-based National League outfit Mounts Bay during the 2008/09 season, where he made 11 appearances.
His talents, however, were clear to see and by the end of that season he was already up at Sandy Park working with the Chiefs, who included him as an unused replacement for their home encounter with Doncaster Knights in April 2009.
Matavesi’s progression continued slowly the following year with six appearances in the club’s promotion-winning season out of the Championship and then a further five outings this term in both the Amlin Challenge and LV= Cup competitions.
With opportunities limited with the Chiefs, a parting of the ways always seemed likely and now Matavesi is poised for a new start with the Paris-based club.
“Whilst I am looking forward to the new challenge, it’s been an emotional day for me,” said Matavesi. “For the past two years I have spent nearly every day with the guys and built some good relationships with everyone at the club. At somewhere like Exeter you don’t have just one best friend within the squad, your friends are the whole squad because we are such a tight-knit bunch.
“If I’m honest I don’t really want to go because of the boys and that, but I need to play rugby if I want to improve. Opportunities like this don’t come along very often. I’ve just turned 20 and playing in the Top 14 with a club like Racing Metro is definitely something special. However, I just have to really concentrate for the initial few weeks; get my head down and settle in as best I can.”
Now set to team up with international stars, including the likes of Sébastien Chabal, François Steyn, Mirco Bergamasco, Sireli Bobo and Hernandez, Matavesi is looking to develop his game yet further.
“I haven’t played a huge amount this season and you just want to be playing at a young age, you just want to run around with the ball,” he said. “But I have been looking into a move for a few weeks now and this is a fresh start for me. Hernandez got injured playing for Racing and my agent rang me and said did I fancy a move out there.”
With the opportunity of featuring for Fiji in this year’s World Cup also on Matavesi’s agenda, he is well aware 2011 is going to be a big year for him.
“The World Cup is in the back of my mind, but first I have to get myself into the Racing squad and get used to what they do,” he added. “It’s going to be a bit of culture shock for me; it’s not going to be easy, but it’s a chance for me to try something different.
“I have been watching a couple of Racing games and it suits my style, they want to throw the ball around and that’s right up my street. I’m looking forward to having that bit of freedom, but I am going to find it tough early on. It’s taken me two years to learn the calls here, so who knows how long it will take me in France!”
Matavesi says departing Sandy Park will be tough, but insists he leaves on good terms and thanks the coaching staff for the help and guidance they have given him throughout his career.
“When I first arrived at Exeter I was absolutely raw, but Ali [Hepher] and Ricky [Pellow] have moulded me into quite a clever player and have done a lot with me and worked on my games in lots of areas.
“Robin [Cowling] has spent a lot of time with me over the years and has helped me in my growing up and so has Rob [Baxter], he has helped me become more of a man this year than anyone else has ever done. I owe a lot to Rob, we didn’t always see eye to eye, but he has turned me into a man and really helped me grow. Robin has also been there since I was 12 and helped me through so much.”
Commenting on Matavesi’s exit, head coach Baxter said: “I think probably Josh would be the first to admit, as would I, that his time has probably run with us and he now has a great challenge ahead of him going over to Racing Metro.
“He’s come in today to say his goodbyes to everyone; he’s trained very well and he goes now with our blessing. We have said to him this is a big opportunity for him, so make sure you work hard and take it. For us it’s disappointing that a lad who has come through our academy system is moving on because we maybe feel we haven’t got the best out of him, but sometimes that is the way it goes.
“He has done pretty well here during his time at the club. It’s always difficult when players move on, but the time was right for both parties for him to move. Maybe in a different rugby environment to Exeter he may thrive, I just think the fit between Exeter Chiefs and Josh wasn’t quite what it needed to be for him to push on any further with us.
“I have just said to him now I hope our paths cross sooner rather than later – and now he needs to grab this opportunity with both hands.”