Dries van Schalkwyk only arrived in Italy this summer but already he is adamant that he’s found his home in Parma with the Zebre.
The destructive South African No.8 has been the Italian side’s star player so far this season racking up three tries in nine RaboDirect PRO12 appearances including a double in the narrow loss against leaders Ulster.
But it’s off the pitch in Parma that he has become just as comfortable, with the good food and laidback living style proving a hit with van Schalkwyk and his wife.
He said: “Parma is a beautiful city and being over here with my wife we are absolutely loving it.
“There is so much history, it’s like a mini Rome and for a guy coming over it’s ideal. We’ve found a brilliant sandwich shop with a few of the other guys and we head over there at least once a week.
“The food is incredible – the ice-cream, the Parma ham, the T-bone, all of it.
“That’s made the transition much easier, even if I still need to work on my Italian. With the coaches it’s fine, but they make the effort to understand you because you play for them. It’s when I’m out and about that I find it a little tougher.
“The good thing for us is that the supporters are right behind us. We are a new team put together in a small space of time so it’s vital to have that sort of support in the city.
“It’s not easy to support a team that isn’t winning but the town have really got behind us and that’s been important.”
As van Schalkwyk admits, it’s been a tough start to life for the Zebre since they replaced Aironi in the RaboDirect PRO12.
Early defeats hinted at a long hard season, but recent near misses against the Scarlets and Ulster gave cause for greater optimism.
The Heineken Cup has proved a greater step up, with a 57-14 humbling at home to Harlequins a particularly rough day last time out.
However van Schalkwyk is confident that the first win is not far away, and with an Italian derby against Treviso their domestic action – what better place to get it.
He added: “It does take time and the coaching staff are trying to get 32 players to pull together and make the same decisions.
“There have been some very near misses and some of those defeats feel like wins. Our aim is to get that first win under our belts as soon as possible and make sure we pick up a couple more before the end of the season.
“For me personally it’s taken a little getting used to, the pitches are a little different to being on the high veldt, and you have to cope with that.
“But I’m beginning to get accustomed to it. I’ve spoken with Josh Strauss at Glasgow, who is doing very well too, and he said the same thing about getting used to Northern Hemisphere rugby.
“That’s why the set-piece is so important, I didn’t realise that before. Our scrum has struggled at times, but we’ve been pleased with the lineout so we just need to keep working at it.”