Matavesi the Cornish Fijian feels at home

(IRB.COM) Saturday 12 June 2010
 Matavesi the Cornish Fijian feels at home
Josh Matavesi kicked six points against New Zealand - Photo: IRB/Martin Seras Lima

When it comes to looking for new rugby talent you'd expect Fiji to cast an eye across its 333 islands for potential candidates, but more recently it looked at another destination adorned with beautiful beaches, the English county of Cornwall.

Josh Matavesi was born in Cornwall to an English mother and Fijian father and had only just signed for Exeter Chiefs when he got the call from Fiji and went on to become the Pacific island's youngest ever international after making his debut against Scotland last November.


The 19-year-old is currently with Fiji's Under 20 side at the IRB Junior World Championship 2010 in Argentina and preparing to face Samoa in the final round of pool matches on Sunday, having already started at fly half against New Zealand and Wales.

"Moses Rauluni hit me up on Facebook and asked me if I wanted to play for Fiji and I asked him to give me a couple of days to think about it, before I went back to him to say yes," Matavesi told Total Rugby.

Right decision

"Mike Brewer, the team manager, asked if I wanted to come on tour, so I told [Exeter Chiefs head coach] Rob Baxter I quite fancy going on tour with Fiji and he said go for it."

His father Sireli toured England with the Fiji Barbarians in the 1980s with the likes of Fijian legend Waisale Serevi and on a weekend off some players went down to Cornwall, had a couple of beers and pasties and played against Cambourne.

Invited back to play for Cambourne and work in the tin mine, Sireli met and married an English woman and three years later Josh was born. Having grown up in England, it was perhaps inevitable that the teenager would begin his career in the English age grade set up.

"I played for England Under 18s and I had a foothold in the England Under 20s, but I didn't get selected for a couple of games and I think this helped me in my decision really," explained Matavesi.

"I just thought I'd go for Fiji, it felt right at the time and it still feels right now so I'm happy."

Easing the pressure

Matavesi, who kicked six points in Fiji's 44-11 loss to New Zealand and another three in a 31-3 loss to Wales, will start at full back against Samoa in their final Pool A match, the same position he made his test debut in a similarly tough match.

"Alex Grove killed me in my first game, so I won't be throwing any dummies in his path again! He made a good tackle on me and I still get ripped for it from my friends today," admitted Matavesi.

"I only had a handful of appearances for Exeter before I played against Scotland and it was the just pace of the game I kind of struggled with, it was just so fast and I didn't know what to do sometimes and I got left in the deep end. It was a good experience and I know what to do next time."

While his first start ended in defeat, he earned his second cap as a replacement against Ireland before starting at fly half against Romania, kicking nine points in a 29-18 victory. His father's son, Matavesi certainly enjoyed the Fijian way.

"The Fijians in the changing room before the game in Scotland was something I'll never forget. It was 2.18 on the clock and we'd just done our warm-up. I was really nervous, I couldn't sit down, I was pacing the changing room and in the background I heard something and one of the boys had put on a Girls Aloud CD and everyone started laughing which eased the pressure a bit.

'Cornish Fijian'

"They're so laid back I think they're going to stop. We had a game plan but the game plan was to go out and do the offloads and goosesteps and hopefully it will backfire against anything they've got and that was the tactics for the week, we practiced in touch games and were laughing, it was awesome."

But then the Fijian way has always been Josh's way, and that of his rugby-playing brothers Sam and Joel too. All three have played for Cornwall and share their father Sireli's traits.

"A lot of the PE teachers didn't like the style me and Sam played, it wasn't the textbook style, it was one-handed running, goose steps and dummies that are outrageous," he explained.

"Some people don't like that but I find it enjoyable, I expect people like to watch it as well. The way the Fijians play, the flair and the way they know each other, what they're going to do and how they're going to do it, is why I wanted to play for Fiji.

"I don't feel English, I feel Cornish. Cornish Fijian that's what they call it."