The 'honestly' Tommaso Allan reply when asked about Marcus Smith
It’s surely one of the most difficult jobs anywhere in club rugby, being the understudy to Harlequins’ Marcus Smith, but Italian international Tommaso Allan insists being the back-up choice to a global superstar isn’t as hard as it looks despite his restricted game time last season.
It was the summer of 2021 when the 29-year-old arrived in London from URC franchise Benetton with the task of ensuring that Harlequins, fresh from their swashbuckling Gallagher Premiership title win, would be able to cope with the increased representative rugby absence of Smith following his breakthrough with England and the Lions.
Having started 22 Premiership matches in the 2020/21 campaign, the reality was that Smith wouldn’t be as frequently available for Harlequins and they turned to Allan, another Test No10 with ample French rugby experience at Perpignan to boot early on in his career, to fill the anticipated void.
This he did – but only to a point. Injury to his shoulder AC and a couple of concussions sidelined him during parts of the season and then there was the issue that when Smith started he invariably played the full 80 minutes.
Smith lasted the full 80 in 14 of his 16 Premiership and European appearances and it meant he was far more involved than Allan, whose statistics from his maiden season at Harlequins showed ten starts in 13 appearances across the main two competitions the club plays in.
So what is Allan’s rapport really like with Smith, given the pair are competing for the same shirt and know that if the England half-back is available he will nearly always be the first choice for Tabai Matson? “We have got a great relationship, we bounce off each other really well. We have chats about rugby in general, game plans, we train a lot together kicking-wise,” said Allan to RugbyPass.
“We honestly have a really good relationship. I try and help him out and he tries to help me out and we bounce off each other really well. I hope he can do the best he can this season and I am sure he hopes the best for me as well.”
Is the added pressure competing with a global star of the sport? “Not really. I have my strengths in my game and what I can bring to a team. I don’t go out and try and imitate Marcus. He has got skills that not many people can copy so I just focus on what I can do and what I can bring to the team. I don’t feel like there is a pressure in that.
“We are a bit different as fly-halves by at the same time we know what is best for the team and what we can do to win matches so that is our priority and if I do come off the bench and replace him I know what my role is in that game and I will do that to the best of my ability. That is how it is going to go.”
With Smith unavailable, Allan has the No10 Harlequins jersey on his back for their Premiership opener this Saturday at Newcastle, a fixture that stokes fond memories as it was at Kingston Park twelve months ago when the Italian made his Englosh league debut. It was a winning start accompanied by the player of the match award.
“The best moment was probably my first game with Quins. I really enjoyed it up in Newcastle. I managed to get the man of the match as well, so I was extremely happy with that. The worst moment was probably just the injuries that I had. There were a few injuries in the season, a couple of concussions and an AC on my shoulder.
“It was frustrating and they were quite back to back as well, so I didn’t get much continuity at the middle point of the season when I wanted to push and complete as much as possible. That is probably the most frustrating, my lowest points last season.”
What is the message Allan has been given by Harlequins boss Matson going into his second season with them? “Just go out there and show my skills. I have been around long enough to know what I can do, so I am just here to help the team out. I know my strengths and what I can bring to the team and hopefully I can show that on the weekend against the Falcons.
“We want to be competitive in every game and in every aspect, whether it is training, even in the gym, we just want to be at the top of our level the whole season. Last year we probably didn’t have the best performances and we didn’t have many top performances.
“We want to try and get that as much as possible and get in a really good situation during the season so that if we do get into the playoffs we can actually deal with that pressure and replicate it.”
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