It’s been a while since our last interview and it feels like a lot has happened on and off the field, with season tickets going on sale for Brentford, the league heating up and the last of our summer signings arriving at Hazelwood. So with the new year we decided there was no better time to restart our check ins with the team so thanks to Matt Rogerson for taking our call!
Matt is one of the most popular players among fans, an outgoing and friendly guy – it’s no surprise the mascot at the Exeter game named him as her favourite player! We get chatting about getting back into the saddle after Christmas and the new year, Matt quickly reminding me “it’s kind of weird hearing everyone saying that – we’ve not really stopped. We had Christmas Day off but we were in training over Christmas eve, Boxing Day, and through the new year. It comes with the territory!” It’s easy to forget when we’re gorging ourselves on turkey that these guys are having to keep their focus on the next game.

Conversation quickly turns to the Exeter game. “We thought it was a pretty good performance, in parts… There was that period at the end of the first half where we had a mad ten minutes and conceded three tries. That put us on the backfoot in terms of the score line. In terms of how we started the game, how we finished it, there were a lot of positives to take from that! It’s now a case of seeing how we can spread those performances over the full 80 minutes rather than just in parts. Hopefully then we’ll get the results instead of being on the wrong end of them.”

For me, sitting in the stands the intensity and attitude from the team seemed to take a step in that game and I’m intrigued by whether this was an intentional regrouping or the natural build-up as the season goes on. There’s real conviction in Rogerson’s voice as he responds. “I think we’ve tried to have the best attitude throughout the season, but maybe it took a little bit of time to gel as a group with the new players in. We’ve had to adapt from Championship rugby last season to the level of the Premiership too. Those factors have played into it a bit and we’ve tried to take it week by week, not looking too negatively on the results we’ve had recently. We feel positive we’ll go out and get results going forward and that’s the main thing.”

Talk turns naturally to the arrival of the last of our summer signings and how the squad is settling “The World Cup created a bit of separation over when guys came in, so when they arrive they’re having to learn things individually rather than all of us learning together. We’ve had to adapt and to help those guys where possible but everyone who has come in has shown real intent and focus on getting to the same page as everyone else. Most of them have been playing from the off and have integrated really well. Now everyone is here it is a bit more settled and we know where we are as a squad.”

The experience of the likes of Sean O’Brien and Sekope Kepu may well prove invaluable to the team, giving our younger players some invaluable experience to tap into. “those guys speak really well. Whenever they speak everyone listens! Their experiences are unparalleled really and it brings a diversity to how we want to play and to the standards we set. Having so many quality players come in has made everyone else raise their game. We want to be considered a top end team and these guys have been at the top of the game for a long time so if we can mirror their success we’ll be in a good place!”

Despite so many big-name additions Matt has still been a regular feature in the back row, albeit more often wearing 6 than the 8 we were used to seeing on his shirt last season. “It’s a position I’ve played before so it’s not a massive change. The way we run the team, our 6 tends to be more involved in our line outs and starter plays. Obviously, scrummaging is a little different too.”

“Speaking with the coaches at the start of the year they know I can play 8 but they see me as a 6 as well so I’ll spend a bit of time running there. I’ve enjoyed bouncing between the two and the fact they know I can cover both adds a string to my bow. Round the park it’s similar, I still try to get stuck in! I’ve just enjoyed getting a run of games together. It’s great to play at such an exciting level, in the Prem and in Europe too!”

The club return to European action this weekend when they visit Bayonne. After the trouble of their travel to Toulon, they’re hoping for a smoother ride this time. “Hopefully air traffic control won’t do us over as much as last time! Going away and playing in France is always a good experience. Rugby is massive in these places, the crowds are great and you can tell rugby is at the heart of the community. It’s a great atmosphere, a great environment to be in! That pressure makes you perform better as a player! It’s great to get away with the lads as well, get a change of scenery. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Declan Kidney has seemed keen to give players a shot in European action this year, with academy players like Ben Donnell really stepping up against some top competition. “We know where the intensity of the Premiership is at and how fresh and ready to go you need to be in that competition. It’s paramount that some guys get a bit of a rest and this European comp provides a great opportunity for players to learn from. The academy lads and boys who need game time will benefit from it.”

“It’s great to see the whole squad get a look in for European games. We’re all mates and you want to see everyone get a few games together. You don’t want to see your friends sitting out all the team, at the end of the day we’re here to play rugby!”

A rare treat for our other upcoming European fixture too, as we play host to Scarlets in a late game next Saturday. “It’s quite rare to play under the lights, we only really play in the day at the Madejski so that match should have a different vibe to it, something new for fans and players. Again, those little changes add a bit more spice to the game. We had a real close game with Scarlets in Wales and came away feeling like we should have won so we’re looking forward to another crack at them!”

We end on a point even further in the future. Looking ahead to the move back to Brentford. “There’s been a lot of discussion about how we will transition to playing there. It’s exciting to see it all coming to fruition. It’s been a few years of the club trying to make it happen and soon we’ll be there. The club is raring to go and hopefully the fan base feel the same way. I can’t really believe it has come round so soon, it seemed a long way away and now it’s only 7 or 8 months until we’ll be there!”

Our thanks to Matt for giving up his time, to Matt Merritt and @RugbyLI for carrying out the interviews and of course to the club for their continuing support.