ITALY coach Jacques Brunel has told The Scotsman that age-grade star Tommaso Allan was never going to play for Scotland at senior level, and forecast an exciting future for the youngster.
Brunel sparked a storm of controversy at Murrayfield four months ago when he named the 20-year-old in his autumn Test squad just months after Allan had finished his age-grade career with Scotland at under-20 level.
Allan, known also as Tommy through his childhood, played for Scotland’s under-17, under-18 and under-20 teams, having qualified for the country through his Scots-born father William. His uncle John played hooker for both Scotland and South Africa.
However, Tommaso was born in Vicenza in Italy and spent his early years there as his father played rugby in Italy and his mother, Paola Berlato, played scrum-half for the Italian women’s team. The SRU and Scott Johnson, interim head coach and director of rugby, believed that Allan would progress to the Scotland senior set-up but, speaking exclusively to The Scotsman, Brunel said that that was never going to happen.
“I did not need to persuade him at all,” said Brunel. “He made his own decision. I knew about it because he plays at Perpignan and I used to coach Perpignan, before I came to Italy, so I still have a lot of contacts at the club.
“But Tommaso was born in Italy and spent I think nearly his first ten years in Italy, and his mother is a proud Italian, and he feels Italian in his heart. He lived and played rugby in South Africa and obviously could play for Scotland when he lived in England, so took that development path, but he believes he is Italian and, as far as I know, always wanted to play for Italy.
“For me, it is good, because we have not got a lot of talented tens. He is still young and has only played three or four times in the French Championship with Perpignan so he is not immediately going to reach international level in what is a crucial position. You cannot expect that of a player who is just 20.”
However, it is clear that Brunel likes the look of the youngster and spoke warmly of the way in which Allan integrated into the autumn Test squad, where he came off the bench in his first two internationals – scoring a try against Australia in the first – and started the third.
“He has two qualities I like particularly. He has a maturity to want to control the game at fly-half and the capacity not to be concerned with pressure. He is very calm under pressure.
“The next test for him is in making the right choices when he plays at international level. A fly-half can have 60 choices that he can make in one game, and to be a good fly-half you have to make the right one 58 times. That is something he will learn and, when he starts doing that, then I will say that he has the ability to be an international fly-half for Italy for a long time.”
That view is echoed by his captain, Sergio Parisse, the world-class flanker who remains a talisman for the Azzurri. He was encouraged by Allan in the autumn, on and off the park, and is hopeful that he could bring some stability to the pivotal role.
Parisse said: “He’s a really nice guy and he has really good qualities. He played a little bit in the November Tests and, playing at ten, everyone expects a lot of him but he is really young.
“From our point of view we are very confident in him, trust him and want to help him to grow up so that he can become the No.10 for Italy for a long time. We have a number of very young players for this championship, and they showed in November that they have good qualities and now they need the support of the team.
“We have had a lot of players in the No.10 position particularly who have not played consistently. They play no more than three or four games so it is a position where we have been looking for a young player to come through and play a lot of years in this position. It is crucial for any team.
“We hope that Tomasso, and the other young players, have those qualities to give a lot to the team, and I am pleased he made the decision to play for Italy.”
Asked whether Allan would start in Italy’s No.10 jersey or on the bench in the opening Six Nations game against reigning champions Wales at the Millennium Stadium, Brunel shrugged. “He is one of two fly-halves in our squad and I don’t know who is one and who is two right now. It is that [he traced a question-mark with his finger]. He was also injured recently at Perpignan and after joining us this week he has gone back to Perpignan and, if he has recovered, he might play this weekend. So we have to wait and see.”
Allan’s first senior appearance at Murrayfield ended in defeat by Edinburgh with Perpignan in the Heineken Cup, but his first Test match against the country he represented throughout his teens could now be just a month away.