Tomasso Allan is a gifted 20-year-old of natural sunny disposition – as befits a young tyro who spends most of his time living the dream in Perpignan, Cape Town and Rome – but the mention of Diego Dominguez produces something akin to a frown.
“There’s no point Italy searching for a new Diego Dominguez because I suspect we will never find him,” says Italy’s young new fly-half. “He was an incredible player with a unique skillset and one of the best kickers of a ball the game has ever seen.
“One of my first memories, as a very young fan, was watching Italy’s debut in the Six Nations in 2000 when they beat Scotland and Diego kicked something like 27 points. I don’t think anybody has ever struck a sweeter ball.
“Since he retired all of Italy’s fly-halves get measured against him and it makes it very difficult, there is a lot of media pressure. Yes, we want international class players at ten but they don’t have to be in the Diego Dominguez mould, that probably can’t be done. They have their own contribution to make.”
Mature words and an approach that augers well from the boy-man that many Italians hope will at least emerge as the next Italy fly-half to demand widespread international respect. It has undoubtedly been Italy’s problem position for the majority of their time in the Six Nations along with scrum-half, where no single player has made the No.9 shirt his own since the retirement of Alessandro Troncon. When Sergio Parisse finally retires it will be the same at No.8. In the context of Italian rugby these are once in a lifetime players.
If the Italian-born, English-educated, South African-sounding Scottish age-group international does kick-on over the coming months it will be on his own terms.
Allan is a powerful and incisive runner and a very physical tackler which immediately makes him an entirely different animal to Dominguez. Those are his undoubted strengths and when he gets the opportunity he must play to them. What remains to be seen are his game management skills, his off-loading against brutal Test quality defences and whether his promising goal-kicking can stand the pressure of Six Nations rugby.
Allan isn’t guaranteed a start against Wales next week – the mercurial but occasionally inspired Luciano Orquera will contest the issue – but the Perpignan fly-half is destined to log up plenty of game time. As his Italy coach Jacques Brunel says: “The clock is ticking, we have just 18 Tests before we our first World Cup game. We need to know the full capability of a player like Tomasso.
“The signs are very good, we’ve seen plenty of ability in training and he did well on his debut but like one or two others he needs more experience at the top level.”
Brunel swooped to secure Allan’s services early last autumn by naming him in the senior Italy squad when it is understood he was being considered by Scotland for fast-tracking from their U20 team. It was perceived as a ‘tug of love’ but Allan was always likely to declare for the Azzurri. His mother, as Paola Berlato, was the star player and scrum-half in the first Italy women’s team and Scottish-South African dad William just missed out on an Italy cap.
“There are a few strands to the family but I feel Italian, when mum is at my matches and starts cheering there isn’t much doubt about my origins. I have many people to thank in the Scotland set-up and at RGS High Wycombe and the Wasps academy where I played as a schoolboy in England. But I’m very happy with opting for Italy. Now comes the difficult bit, trying to prove myself at the top level and be part of a successful team.”
Allan’s big break has been his unexpected signing by Perpignan last summer and that is down, in large part, to him posting on YouTube a montage of his play in South Africa last year when he helped Western Province to the U19s Currie Cup.
Then on arrival in Perpignan he struck lucky in James Hook’s attitude towards the young arrival.
“James has been brilliant, very helpful in training, sharing all his hard earned knowledge. He is such a talented guy and I’ve been learning all the while and enjoying the occasional start,” said Allan.
One thing he has quickly learned, and Hook may have had a quiet word here, is that versatility can be a double edged sword.
Allan played centre and full-back in the Scotland age-groups but wants to be considered a fly-half: “I don’t see how you can possibly master a position as complex at fly-half while playing in other positions. That will not be possible for me. I need to concentrate 100 per cent of the time on fly-half and see where that takes me.”