YOUNG Plymouth Albion flanker Sam Matavesi described spending the summer with the Fiji national team as the best experience of his life.
The 21-year-old returned to Albion on Wednesday after being part of Fiji’s successful Pacific Nations Cup squad.
Although Cornish-born Matavesi only earned one cap – a second half appearance against Canada in Ontario – he would not have swapped the experience for anything.
“It was the best thing I have ever done in my life,” Matavesi told The Herald. “It was amazing.
“But I spoke to the coach and it was about getting me in now to try to build for the (2015) World Cup.
“Hopefully, I will get picked for the Europe tour in November. They play Wales, Italy, Portugal, Romania and they have the Barbarians at Twickenham for their 100th anniversary – that would be amazing to be involved in that.”
Matavesi had hoped to feature in more than one game, but he was not too disappointed he didn’t, as he did get to travel with the team to Canada and Japan.
“It was touch-and-go whether I’d be involved in Japan, but it did not work out,” he said.
“But just being there – having the whole experience – was more than enough. I’d said before if I played two minutes, I’d be happy.
“Obviously, I would have liked to have played every game. They travelled to Canada and Japan and they were looking at it as two tours to look at different players, but I was lucky enough to go on both, which was a big thing.
“There were some great players in the squad. Some who had won the Top 14 title or played in a Heineken Cup final.
“It was an unreal experience. I have not stopped smiling since I came back.”
Matavesi’s 25 minutes of international rugby for Fiji means he has now lost his EQP (English-qualified player) status.
Teams in the Championship must average 16 EQPs in their match-day squad.
That can make it tougher for non-EQP to play or even get contracts.
However, Matavesi has no regrets about giving up his EQP status.
“What I said is that if I didn’t get a contract because I’m non-EQP then that’s life,” he said. “Obviously, I would be bothered (if I didn’t get a contract) but I would take it because playing for your country is a once in a life time achievement.”
Matavesi admitted earning his first cap against Canada was an incredible feeling.
“A lot of emotions went through my head,” he said.
“I learned the anthem, but when we did the cibi, like the haka, I had to stand behind a big guy because I didn’t know the words.”
Matavesi is now back into pre-season training at Albion.
“I have come into high spirits,” he said. “The boys are loving it. A lot has changed at the club. Shanners (James Shanahan) seems really good.
“I had a week off last week but I’m back into it now.
“My first day back was Wednesday and I feel I have fitted in straight away.
“I just have to try to get fit and get a bit bigger. It is now about building and trying to start every game for Plymouth.”
ALBION’S away game at the Cornish Pirates will be played on Boxing Day.
The Pirates, like Albion, will play eight home games on a Friday night this coming season.
And the two West Country clubs will play their first three home matches on the same evening.