Switch in hemispheres leads to Matt Hema soaring at Cambridge
Kiwi is flying after move to Volac Park
Leading try scorer and leading appearance maker, you could say that Matt Hema and Cambridge have been a match made in heaven.
The 23-year-old made the short step in distance across from Bury St Edmunds last summer, but it continued what has been quite a few big leaps in his rugby career.
Hema has wasted no time in getting used to northern hemisphere rugby, going from National League Three London & SE to National League One in consecutive seasons.
But he has certainly not let it show, whether that be in the centres or on the wing.
“From National Three, National Two and then National One, it’s been quite good actually,” said Hema. “I’ve just been playing rugby, seeing how I go each year and this is just another year to me. I will see how I go and see where it takes me at the end of that.
“I first moved over from New Zealand to Guernsey and that was my first year over in England playing in National Three, and I then got picked up from Bury St Edmunds and played in National Two and then thankfully got picked up by Cambridge.
“I knew a few of the boys in Cambridge, a few Kiwi lads, so it definitely made it easier but then the boys that are already here are a great crack. They are good lads and I’m really enjoying it here.”
Hema is originally from Waikato in New Zealand, and his club growing up was the Te Aroha Cobras, in the Waikato Valley competition.
But he was brought to these shores by the lure of travelling, and the opportunity to further test his rugby abilities.
“I was just at home in New Zealand and thought I might as well do it while I’m still young and thankfully it paid off,” said Hema.
“It’s been a good move and I haven’t looked back. I would say even back home my club competition would have been National Three, maybe lower, but I played a little bit of rep rugby and that would have been maybe National Two. So National One is my first proper go at it.
“Going from National Three to National Two wasn’t a big jump. I’d say National Two to National One was quite a bigger jump but I think all these boys are capable.
“We’re all National One players and we’re all capable of being in this competition and we’ve just been a bit unlucky with a few results.”
And the transition from southern to northern hemisphere rugby has not proved too difficult, although the elements have been somewhat challenging.
“It’s quite different with the pitches,” said Hema.
“Sometimes the pitches are quite muddy and slippery, whereas I’m used to hard pitches and being able to run fast – when I play on 4G I quite enjoy that.
“So that’s one of the biggest changes, the conditions. Sometimes it’s bloody cold and my hands are still numb. But rugby’s rugby and it’s not going to change wherever you are.”
One of the striking things about Hema has been his versatility this season.
He has been equally at home in the centres, on the wing or at full-back, and that seems to be following a theme in his rugby life.
“Back home in New Zealand I played 12 or 13 and then from National Three I was playing full-back, in National Two I was playing wing, a little bit of centre and then here playing centre/wing,” he said.
“I’ve been all over the shop. I prefer centre because you get a little bit more defence and a little bit more hits but I’m happy to be on the field really.
“I always played centre to be honest – there are a few quicker fellas back home [on the wing]!
“Why I like centre a bit more is to get involved a little bit more, get in the dirty stuff and the tackling and rucks and stuff like that.”
And Hema is thriving at Cambridge.
“It’s good, I’m really enjoying it here,” he said. “I believe in these boys so much.
“We’ve been unlucky with a few results but I think we’re there, there are just little areas [to improve]. But I think we’re there and can beat teams on top of the table.
“I’m used to being one of the youngest, but here I’m just mid-range really. We’ve got a few 21-year-olds and 19 even, so it’s definitely a young squad.
“And I think we can go far as a club in this competition, if not going up in a few years.”