Cornishman Josh Matavesi will make his first senior start for Exeter Chiefs against Sale Sharks tomorrow
EXETER Chiefs team manager Robin Cowling is backing highly-rated Cornishman Josh Matavesi to make a big impression with the Championship club this season.
The 18-year-old back has been promoted from the club's Academy ranks to that of a first-year professional – and tomorrow makes his first senior start for the Chiefs when they play host to Guinness Premiership visitors Sale Sharks at Sandy Park (3pm).
For some, being thrown in at the deep end so soon into a fledging career may be considered detrimental. Thankfully, the Chiefs do not see it that way and long-term mentor Cowling believes Matavesi has all the attributes to go a long way within the game.
"It's exciting for a young lad to step up to that level," said Cowling, himself a former Leicester Tigers, Gloucester and England international. "It will be a real test for him. He's shown everything in training, but it is different playing in front of a big crowd, with that expectation against a much stronger opposition than anything he's experienced before.
"However, he's a very confident lad and he will be well cared for by other senior players around him. I'm certain he will come through well."
Cowling added: "Last year he played in a couple of United games and the better the players around him, the better he plays. He's one of those lads who can step up the levels very easily. He's a very skilful lad and he's just got to keep the mental side right to go with it."
As well as featuring for Exeter's second string last term, Matavesi also turned out for Mounts Bay in National League Two and was also a try-scoring hero in the highly successful Truro College team that lifted the Daily Mail RBS Schools Under-18 Cup at Twickenham back in April.
Matavesi's talents, though, were always going to take him onto bigger things and in the final National League One fixture of the season, he was included on the Exeter first team bench for their 9-3 victory over visiting Doncaster Knights.
Now, having spent the close season under the guidance of Cowling, Exeter head coach Rob Baxter and new assistant Ali Hepher, the Truro-born back will be one of four Chiefs set to debut from the outset against the Sharks.
Joining him in the Chiefs starting XV will be summer signings Hoani Tui and James Scaysbrook, whilst Haydn Thomas – back for his third stint with the club – also starts at scrum-half.
On the bench, three more newcomers – Ruaidhri Murphy, Sean Tomes and Phill Dollman – are also set to feature, while trialist Chris Morgans will be hoping to get onto the pitch in a bid to impress Baxter and the Exeter coaching staff.
The Aberavon scrum-half has been training with the Chiefs for just over a week now and Cowling is looking forward to seeing what the player can offer in a match-day environment.
"We felt we were a little bit vulnerable in the scrum-half position," explained Cowling. "Chris has come on a short trial and we're giving him a chance to show his wares. However, no final decision has been made on him.
"It's an opportunity for him to see where he is compared to our guys. He would like to know fairly soon because he would go back to play for Aberavon, so we'll have to make a decision fairly quickly."
One man who will not be featuring for Exeter tomorrow is prop Chris Budgen, who has been called up for a training exercise with the Army in Canada. The former Northampton Saints forward will be away until October on duty.
Chiefs: Matavesi; Foster, McKenzie, Bedford, Jess; Steenson, Thomas; Sturgess, Clark, Tui; Bentley, Hayes (capt); Slade, Scaysbrook, Baxter. Replacements: Kingsland, Alcott, Murphy, Tomes, Hanks, Johnson, Fleming, Stuart-Smith, Morgans, Gray, Cornwell, Dollman, Lewis.
THE Chiefs' Open Day is back this Sunday with the gates opening for this free event at 11am. There will be fun and food for all the family.