FIJIAN flanker Akapusi Qera has described the change from provincial rugby back home to the Guinness Premiership as 'a hell of a journey'.
The hard-hitting openside admitted he suffered acutely from homesickness when he first upped sticks to play for Birmingham-based Pertemps Bees in the second tier of English rugby.
The 26-year-old still struggles with the weather – particularly the recent harsh winter – but after signing a new two-year contract in January he is happy with life in Gloucester.
"It's a hell of a journey from a country that I'm comfortable in to a country that I'm new to," Qera said. "My first year here I was calling home and saying I wanted to come back because I couldn't handle the cold weather and the snow.
"But it has been a really good experience and I thank God I've gone through it."
But he still misses the beaches and the palm trees of Fiji, where he will return for the upcoming Pacific Nations Cup to captain his country after being handed the duty for the November internationals.
Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu is also expected to play in the tournament for Samoa once the pair have wrapped up the English league season for Gloucester against Worcester on Saturday (3pm).
The Gloucester coaching staff will be keeping their fingers crossed while Qera and Fuimaono-Sapolu are away – the Fijian ruptured cruciate ligaments playing in the competition in the summer of 2008 after taking the Guinness Premiership by storm the season before.
The injury meant he missed almost all of the 2008/2009 season, and only regained his best form for Gloucester in the second half of this campaign, sparked by a hat-trick against Newport Gwent Dragons in the Heineken Cup.
Qera explained how the selection is already underway for the Pacific Rugby Cup, a competition which pits developmental teams from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga against each other and starts today.
Fiji enter a Barbarians and a Warriors team, selected when the provincial sides from the country come up against eachother.
Qera said: "When the province teams play each other, it's a hell of a game. That's where they pick the Barbarians team and the Warriors and try to mingle them.
"They try to do this three weeks prior to the competitions in order for the boys to get together and then carry on from there.
"First you have the rivalry within Fiji and then the rivalry with the Pacific Island teams.
"It's a good rivalry because after the games everything is done, everyone has fun. But when it comes to the game I always say you can be friends on the outside but during the game you no longer know the person.
"It's a good game to watch, a good game to play in. No team wants to back down. We are fighting for the country, fighting for each other. It's a life battle.
Qera said Fiji struggle to compete at international level because of the poor standard of the provincial rugby.
"It's a good step up from Province to PRC, then PRC to PNC," he said. "Then you are into big test matches when before you have only played for your province.
"That's why we get hammered by big teams."