By Gavin Mortimer
“An old pro” was how Perpignan coach Marc Delpoux summed up the performance of Tommy Allan on his Top 14 debut earlier this month. He wasn’t wrong. USAP went down 19-16 away at Racing Metro but the 20-year-old Scot gave a standout display at fly-half.
Not only was it his first appearance in the Top 14, but it was the first time Allan has played at senior level. Hitherto all his rugby has been age group, mostly for the Western Province U19 side. Eh! How have we gone from France to Scotland to South Africa. OK, let’s go back to the beginning – to Italy.
It was here, in Vicenza, that Tommaso Allan was born in April 1993, to a Scottish father and an Italian mother who in her day appeared as a scrum-half for the Italian women’s team. His dad was a bit of a player, too, but not as good as Tommy’s uncle – John – who won nine caps for Scotland in the early 90s before going on to win another 13 Test caps for his native South Africa following the reintroduction of the ‘Boks to the international fold.
In fact Tommy’s dad, though he was born in Scotland, grew up in South Africa before taking up employment in Italy. When Tommy was seven the family returned to the UK, to Henley-on-Thames, and that’s when his rugby education really began. “I’d played mini rugby for a year in Italy but it was with the Henley Hawks that I began to get serious,” explains Allan. “I spent about four years there and then moved to London Scottish.”
A natural footballer, able to play across the backline, Allan initially divided his time between full-back and centre, but it was with the Scotland U18 set-up that he began to flourish as a fly-half. “That’s where I’m most comfortable,” he says. “I enjoy fly-half most and with Scotland they’ve given me the most game time there.”
Allan, who stands 6ft 1 and weighs 13 ½ stone, moved up through the Scotland ranks until he came under the tutelage of Sean Lineen at U20 level. The young fly-half credits Lineen as a formidable influence on his game and certainly he excelled on his watch, playing throughout the U20 Six Nations last season and then into the summer world championship.
In between representing Scotland age groups, Allan moved to South Africa and spent two seasons with the U19 Western Province side, the highlight being their 22-18 Currie Cup final defeat of the Blue Bulls in 2012, a tense affair in which Allan’s boot proved decisive.
So we’ve done Italy, England, Scotland and South Africa…and France? “My agent has a good connection with Perpignan so we sent them a video of me playing. They liked what they saw and offered me a one year contract with the possibility of a one year extension.
“I’m really enjoying it. It’s great being part of a professional environment and I like how Perpignan play. They give you licence to run and because it’s less structured it really allows you to develop your attacking skills. In training we play a lot of touch and there’s always an emphasis on attack and adventure.”
No one’s been more helpful than James Hook in making sure Allan’s at home in the south of the France. “He’s such a nice guy,” says Allan of the Welshman. “We hang out together at times and he’s always there if I need some advice or help. We’ve done some kicking sessions together and they’ve been great.”
Allan admits his selection against Racing Metro came as a shock although he’d expected to be called upon at some point as Perpignan rotated their squad to cope with the challenge of three Top 14 fixtures in nine days. “I thought I would get some game time but I was chuffed when they announced the team and I was starting,” he says. “I was pretty nervous before hand, stressing about making mistakes, but I think it went pretty well.”
It did go well. Allan scored 11 of his side’s points and earned that pithy praise from the grizzled Delpoux, not bad for a 20-year-old up against the British and Irish Lions fly-half. “It was awesome to play against Johnny Sexton,” exclaims Allan. “I didn’t expect everything [his debut] to happen so quickly so it was just crazy to find myself playing against one of the best 10s in the game.”
What will be even crazier is if the Scotland selectors don’t keep a very close eye on the young fly-half with the ‘Have Boots, Will Travel’ mentality.