SAM MATAVESI will start for Plymouth Albion on Saturday when they welcome Ampthill to Brickfields in National One (3pm).
The 23-year-old Cornish-born Fijian international returned to Albion last week from South West One side Camborne, where he had been playing since leaving Brickfields at the end of last season.
Matavesi came on as a replacement against Blackheath last Saturday and did enough in the time he was on the field to win the battle to wear the number seven shirt against an experienced Ampthill side this weekend. He replaces Cameron Thompson, who drops down to the bench.
Albion make two other changes to their side that lost 34-3 at Blackheath. Fit-again lock Dan Collier, who was ill last week, comes back in for teenager Jim Massey, while Cornwall scrum-half Matt Shepherd gets the nod for the number nine shirt ahead of Cameron Setter.
Matavesi, who has made more than 50 league and cup appearances for Albion, is certainly relishing the chance to run out at Brickfields again.
“I saw some of the supporters last week at the away game, but I will see the rest of them on Saturday against Ampthill,” said Matavesi.
“I think everyone is excited about the game. We just need to put in a performance that is much better than last week.”
Matavesi is delighted to be back at Albion, although he admits he will never lose his love for his hometown club Camborne, who he has also played for three times.
“I’ve been at my hometown club Camborne for most of the season, but it’s awesome to come back here,” said Matavesi.
“I am a Camborne fan, as it’s where I’m from, but if you have the chance to progress and play higher that’s the ultimate reason really to move on.
“It’s the third time I’ve been here (at Plymouth) and I’m only 23. I have been around Albion on and off since I was 18 so I’m pretty much part of the furniture.”
Matavesi has primarily returned to Albion as a flanker after spending all last season playing hooker for the club.
However, he has not ruled out returning to the front-row in the future and he will offer emergency cover there on match-days.
“If I still have ambitions to play for Fiji then I have to decide if that is going to be at hooker or in the back-row,” said Matavesi.
“I think for the minute I will stick to the back-row, but I think hooker is always a possibility and if worst had come to the worst last Saturday I would have slotted in at hooker.
“It is tough as you don’t want to be one of these people who can play anywhere and always end up on the bench – you want a position and stick to it.
“I’m training and playing for seven and, hopefully, that goes well.”
Matavesi earned two caps for Fiji in the back-row in 2013 but he feels he would have more of a chance of adding to those international appearances, which came against Romania and Canada, at hooker.
“No disrespect to the guys who played hooker in the last World Cup, but they are all well into their 30s now and I think some are retiring,” said Matavesi. “So it is another open door.
“When I played hooker I thoroughly enjoyed it, but it’s trying to get exposure at hooker at a decent level when you are likely to make a few mistakes. Last year was tough as we were losing and there was no time to experiment. It was catch-22.
“A plus in this league (National One) is there is no EQP rule, which has been my Achilles heel for few years now.”
However, in the short-term, Matavesi is not thinking about international recalls or hooker, he just wants to try and keep hold of the number seven shirt.
Jarrad Hayler, who impressed there in Albion’s opening four matches, has not been able to train with Albion regularly for the last couple of months due to Royal Navy commitments.
Albion hope he will be back at the club next week. But as well has Hayler, Matavesi also faces competition from Thompson, Gregory Sebastien, Andy Chesters and Seti Raumakita.
“It has never been an easy shirt to get,” said Matavesi. “There was people like Rory Watts-Jones in my first season. Now there’s Cam (Thompson), Jarrad, who I have not met yet, Seti (Raumakita), Andy (Chesters) and Greg (Sebastien) there’s loads of people and that always healthy.”
Matavesi has been impressed with what he has seen on his return to the club.
He knows the club are rebuilding following their relegation and financial problems last season.
“I wouldn’t say there’s less pressure as there’s always pressure,” said Matavesi. “Albion are the team that has come down from the Championship so there’s always going to be pressure. I just think what they have created and how they have gone about things is really good.
“Everyone works hard for each other. It is tough as some lads are around full-time and some are part-time and it’s about getting a balance and I think the coaches have worked hard to do that.”
Meanwhile, Matavesi has said he would like to play for Cornwall in the 2016 County Championship.
“Last year I couldn’t play because I was Championship, but this year I can play,” said Matavesi. “If he (Graham Dawe) picks me then I would love to play for Cornwall.
I’ve got a lot of friends who play for Redruth and Camborne and it would be lovely to play for Cornwall with them and the likes of Herbie (Stupple) and Sheppy (Matt Shepherd). “
ALBION TEAM TO FACE AMPTHILL
15 Ethan Ford
14 Tom Bedford
13 Jake Murphy (capt)
12 Marc Koteczky
11 Harrison Cully
10 Billy Searle
9 Matt Shepherd
1 Ollie Dawe
2 James Penman
3 Christian Judge
4 Dan Collier
5 Ed Holmes
6 Nile Dacres
7 Sam Matavesi
8 Herbie Stupple
Replacements: Rupert Freestone, Gregory Sebastien, Cameron Thompson, Robin Wedlake, Cameron Setter.