Allan’s winding road to Italy No.10

Tommaso Allan knows the routine.

Sooner or later, interviews invariably drift away from the game at hand, in this case Italy’s Pool D clash with Ireland on Sunday, and reverts course to rake over a back story that makes a mockery of things so neatly black and white as borders or timelines.

So, let’s get this straight...

Born in Italy to a Scottish father and an Italian mother, Allan moved with his family to England when he was just eight and yet he speaks the Queen’s with a heavy South African tilt thanks to two years spent there as a teenager, where he won an U19 Currie Cup with Western Province.

He has played underage rugby for Scotland, is out-half for Italy at this World Cup and the day job finds him in France’s Pro D2, which he will hope to leave behind next May along with a Perpignan side desperate to reacquaint itself with the Top 14.

His dad William played rugby, but not to the standard of his mum Paola Berlato who played internationally. Then there is his uncle John who ran out 13 times for Scotland and a further nine for his native South Africa after the end of apartheid reopened the doors to Test rugby for the Springboks.

In South Africa, he played with Werner Kock who has been nominated for world sevens player of the year. In France he faces forwards who, if anything, are even greater behemoths than those inhabiting the top flight. Quite the grounding and education.

All told, it’s been a bewildering blur of destinations and experiences for a man still just 22 and, though he is something of a magpie who picks up useful titbits wherever he roams, he understands the benefits of spending the last few seasons in southwest France at the same club.

“Of course, I have always said that for me game time is the most important aspect, especially for a number 10,” he explained at Italy’s Cobham base yesterday ahead of Sunday’s meeting with Ireland at London’s Olympic Stadium.

“The more you play, the more you feel comfortable and the better your decisions during the game so, for me, it is what I want and I have got it now so I feel a lot more confident in my game. There are obviously still a lot of areas I want to improve on, but it is going the right way.”

Perpignan’s shock relegation persuaded James Hook and Camille Lopez to seek employment elsewhere and it was that which bumped Allan up the ladder. He made an instant impression with then coach Marc Delpoux fulsome in his praise after the 10’s debut this month two years ago.

An “old pro” was Delpoux’s assessment after a game which Perpignan lost 19-16. Allan kicked 11 points that day and the general consensus was that he had lost nothing in the comparison with Racing Metro’s out-half that day: one Jonathan Sexton.

“I rate him as one of the best 10s in the world,” said Allan of his Irish counterpart. “He’s a really good player. His decision-making is up to scratch the whole time, his kicking game is excellent as well. I have tried to learn a lot from him by looking at him play.

“It will be quite cool to play against him again.” But he will do so only by default.

Kelly Haimona was the man who looked likely to conduct Italy’s back line at this tournament until news that a broken arm suffered in March had not healed and would need further rehab. Allan was duly promoted to the pivot and started the last six games at 10.

Allan’s is a tough task.

He has just 19 caps, with 11 of them coming as a starter and his two appearances thus far against Ireland have amounted to 17 minutes off the bench at 10 for Luciano Orquera in 2014 and a stint as a replacement centre last spring.

Against France in Twickenham, the sight of their out-half drifting across his back line was symbolic of how the Azzurri have struggled for years with ball in hand and he was vocal in his acknowledgement that their attack needed to sharpen up after the escape against Canada last Saturday.

He is confident it can.

“We are getting there. We are taking more responsibility in the back line. We have been playing a bit more with our backs and scoring a few tries with our backs in this competition. We have shown that we can do that if we hold onto the ball.

“It’s close, we have been together for two years. A lot of the youngsters have been together for two years and we are starting to gel. We understand each other’s play and in the short term it will be a good investment.”


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