AS THE Wallabies flounder with their few words of Italian when trying to converse with the locals, one of their opposing players is also having the same language problems.
In the Italian squad is Queenslander Luke McLean, who, in less than a year since arriving in Italy, has become the Azzurri Test five-eighth and one of the team’s leading organisers – a fair effort considering his self-confessed difficulties in speaking the lingo.
"I know a little bit. I’m having lessons, but I’ve got a fair way to go," he said. Being arm-in-arm with his Italian Test teammates when the national anthem is being played can also be a bit tricky – especially when he can sing the opposing one in his sleep.
"The Australian anthem is the only national anthem out of the two I know. I think I know two lines of the Italian anthem … so I should be learning it more."
While many Australian fringe players opt to go to Europe at the end of their careers, McLean took the opposite approach, heading to Italy at 20. A Super 14 career appeared certain, especially as he was a member of the Australian Schools team with Wallabies David Pocock, while they were also members of the successful Australian under-19 side.
After playing with Perth Spirit in the Australian Rugby Championship, McLean was expected to join the Western Force. That is until the leading Italian club Calvisano, knowing his grandparents were Italian, head-hunted him. He took the offer, and with it an immediate change in pace, moving from Brisbane to a small northern Italian village, near Milan.
"It is very laid-back here," he said. "I thought Australians were laid-back, but coming here was still a culture shock. Things are definitely slower. Shops close from 12.30pm to 3.30pm, and that siesta time takes a while to get used to. I’ve definitely had to embrace that style of life.
"It was tough at first. I moved over here all by myself, didn’t know anyone, didn’t speak the language, total change of lifestyle, never lived away from home, and for a while was wondering whether I had made the wrong decision. Two or three months in, I started to settle in. You make friends. You start learning a bit of the language, and it all changes."
Having an English-speaking coach in Nick Mallett running the Italian team also helped, because it did not involve sign language for communication, while starting Tests against Argentina and South Africa this year have made it an enlightening international experience.