When Jacques du Toit left the Cheetahs to join Bath last year, little could he have known he would be back facing South African opposition so soon.
But that’s the way it’s worked out following the hooker’s move to Vodacom United Rugby Championship outfit Zebre.
The man from Bloemfontein is now based in Parma with his wife and two children, having made the switch from the west country over the summer.
His new job means coming up against familiar foes in the shape of the DHL Stormers, Cell C Sharks, Emirates Lions and Vodacom Bulls, with Zebre having already taken on the first two this season.
“It was a bit of a surprise the way it worked out,” said the 28-year-old. “I had wanted to go to the Premiership since I was young. I experienced it and enjoyed it very much. Then they had a change of management in Bath and they wanted to create a new environment and sign new players.
“This opportunity came up at Zebre. It looked an attractive move for the family and it’s been working well for us. It’s nice being in Italy, with a new team and a new project.
“You’ve also had the URC begin, with the four South African teams, and that has boomed. It’s a great competition worldwide now, so it’s nice being a part of it.”
Zebre are yet to win a game this season, but have picked up four losing bonus points and come close to pulling off a couple of upsets.
“It’s a new project, with new coaches, new players and a new style,” said Du Toit, who skippered the side last time out at the Dragons.
“There are still a few kinks, but we have seen some good things early on in the season. We were unlucky in three of the games we played that we could have won.
“We gave Leinster a big shock and did really well against the Sharks, while we created a lot of try scoring opportunities in the Edinburgh match. It’s just about having the composure to take them and finishing the game through that.
“It’s not going to be fixed immediately, but it’s something we are working towards. I believe in what we are doing and we are going to see some good results soon.
“We have a really young team and winning is something you learn to do and we just need to learn quicker. We have the players, we have the talent, we have the coaching. It’s just getting the first win and then the rest will go from there.
“I enjoy being part of something that we build and hopefully we build towards a winning performance.”
Du Toit, a former South Africa U20s international, is a busy man both on and off the field at the moment. His son will be three in a couple of months time, while his daughter was born just nine weeks ago.
As well as having spent a number of years with the Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs, over two spells, he also had a stint with another former PRO14 side, the Southern Kings.
In April, he will be returning to the Rainbow Nation for back-to-back URC games against the Bulls of Pretoria and the Lions of Johannesburg.
“It’s going to be nice going back. I have lots of family and friends out there and it will be nice to catch up with them. I am looking forward to that,” he said.
“The league is generating a lot of interest back home. People are hungry for rugby there. With a South African team winning it last season, it just boosts confidence for the local sides and that feeds the national team.”
Photo: Cubo Photo Milano