ITALY are poised to launch another Scot into the Test arena with this week’s call-up of 6ft 6in lock George Biagi.
Tommy Allan caused a stir when he turned down Scotland after winning age-grade caps, and made his debut for the Italians in November, before going on to score for the Azzurri against Scotland in last month’s RBS Six Nations clash.
Now, Italy coach Jacques Brunel has called up Biagi, the 28-year-old Zebre player, who was born and bred in Ayrshire.
Biagi came into the world in Irvine and attended Fettes College before leaving to study economics in Milan. There he continued the rugby he first took up as a 13-year-old at Fettes, won Italy’s second division with I Cavalieri Prato and became a professional rugby player with Aironi.
When the Italian rugby federation scrapped the team, he joined Bristol for a season, but returned to Italy to join Zebre last year and has played against both Edinburgh and Glasgow.
His father, Michael, said: “We are delighted for George and hopeful that we’ll see him make his international debut in the next couple of weeks.
“He was called up by Italy two years ago for their summer tour to North and South America but fell ill and was actually hospitalised for four months. He made a full recovery but that seemed to knock out his chance of playing for Italy, so it’s great that he’s been given another opportunity. He was called into the Italian squad on Monday due to injuries and what he’s told me is that he is unlikely to feature against Ireland in Dublin this weekend but will be on the bench for the final game, against England in Rome.
“I am flying home to see my mum in Saltcoats as she’s not too well at the moment, but I would hope to be able to get back to Rome for that game.”
Michael was born and bred in Scotland, to an Italian father and Scottish mother, and George’s mother is also Italian. At over 18 stones and 6ft 6in to his father’s 5ft 7in frame, he also appears to take his height from his 5ft 11in mother, but the rugby has come down both sides of the family tree.
“I played rugby at boarding school in England and for Ardrossan Accies when I came back up,” said Michael, “and my brother-in-law Willie Gibson was president of Ardrossan Accies a couple of times.
“George’s brother Corrado played for Fettes College when they won the Bell Lawrie Scottish Schools Cup in 2008-09, and played for Edinburgh Accies for a bit and then Northumbria University, but neither George nor Corrado were involved in the Scottish age-group system when they were at school.”
George Biagi is clearly a late developer and with the number of second rows who have vied for the Scotland jersey in recent years, and are now jostling for the positions, it remains doubtful whether he would ever have found a route to the top in his home country. But, as for whether there will be split loyalties in the household when he runs out in the Azzurri blue, his father dismissed the notion.
“I think everyone will be happy,” he added. “It’s one of the most soul-destroying things we go through, when Scotland and Italy come together in sport, to be honest. But we always win no matter what the result and I always say that, though I was born and brought up in Scotland, it’s not a question of divided loyalties but equal affinities.
“I just hope George gets a chance this time. I know how hard he works and also how cut-throat it is at that level of the game. The players put in so much effort and the expectations are so high, and rugby is not a game where you can hide.
“But I’m highly delighted for him. He is a real worker who puts in a full day’s shift in every game he plays, and this selection shows that his presence on the field has been noticed.
“It will be great to see him involved at the top level in rugby and if it ends in a win for Italy against England on the last day of the championship, then I think there will be a lot of happy people in our family and in both countries!”