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You need to know about Pat Pellegrini

By Paul Smith
Pat Pellegrini Credit: Coventry Rugby

Did you hear the one about the Aussie who got sent to Coventry and ended up in Nuku’alofa?

Remarkably that is the incredible sequence of events which led 23-year-old fly half Pat Pellegrini on a rugby odyssey which may well end up with him playing in a Tonga shirt alongside modern greats Charles Piutau and Malakai Fekitoa at France 2023.


The likeable Coventry Rugby no.10 is one of 35 players that are currently part of Tonga’s six-week pre-World Cup camp – and with 33 of them destined to make the trip to Paris in September he seems well-placed to make his international debut.

Pellegrini’s route to wearing the famous red shirt and needing to be foot perfect in both their playbook and the ferocious pre-match sipi tau has been very different to that of the most of his future teammates.

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“I was born and raised in Sydney,” he says.

“Dad is Australian but Mum was born in Tonga and only left the island for New South Wales when she was eight.

“I have plenty of extended family – uncles, aunts and cousins – that still live on the main island in Tonga where we’re based during the camp.

“It has been great to catch up with them all while I’m over here – I’ve only been to Tonga once before around eight years ago when I was still at school.”

As many have recently observed, English rugby’s financially impoverished, largely neglected second tier is despite its lack of RFU support a consistent talent production line from which Pellegrini could be the next cab off the rank.


Having played only 18 games for Coventry during which he accumulated 153 points Pellegrini’s emergence as a potential international has been meteoric to say the least.

But the headline numbers only partly tell the story, since the Randwick and West Harbour product has an incredible strike rate of nine tries from those 18 games through his intuitive eye for a gap, blistering sidestep and a burst of acceleration which regularly left defenders grasping fresh air.

Coventry’s pacy outside backs were regular beneficiaries of their no.10’s ability to spot opportunity and play what was in front of him. As a result, the Blue-and-Whites finished 2022/23 not just in third place in the Championship but with a highlights reel of long-range scores which makes thrilling viewing.

Pat Pellegrini
Pat Pellegrini playing for Coventry.

Cov head coach Alex Rae is certainly in no doubt about the quality of his fly half and quickly awarded him a new contract at the end of last season.

“He’s the best attacking fly half in the Championship and we’re only just scratching the surface of his potential,” Rae said.

“If he continues with his desire and attitude and keeps developing he’ll be in a really good place.”

Pellegrini’s back story is a salutary lesson in where ambition, self-belief and persistence can get you – and also highlights the significance that a chance encounter can play.

“I played rugby league and rugby union when I was growing up,” he recalls.

“When I was about 14 I had to make a choice and opted for union, but I think a lot of the league skills have helped me along the way.

“I played in the Shute Shield for West Harbour in addition to representing New South Wales schoolboys but didn’t really think about playing abroad until COVID struck.

“I have an English grandfather on Mum’s side and because there was rugby going on in England when we weren’t playing in Australia I decided to move north and joined Sevenoaks RFC in Kent who were playing in National Three.

“I had a really enjoyable time there, then got spotted and recommended to Coventry by James Tyas who is now one of my teammates. He does Sevenoaks’ analysis and he suggested that the club asked me up to the Midlands for a trial.


“We had a great year with the team showing plenty of good form and moving into a full-time environment really helped my game. Doing that much training was a bit of a shock to the system at first but I soon adapted and it has really helped my focus.”

Self-help has also played its part in Pellegrini’s two-year journey from Sevenoaks to Tonga as he recounts.

“I had always thought about playing for Tonga and representing my family so when they were in the UK during the autumn internationals last year I asked my agent to get in touch and see if I could spend some time training with them.

“It helped them with numbers and it was a great experience for me to train with their backs even though the likes of Charles Piutau weren’t on that tour.

“Since that time and after becoming aware that I am Tonga qualified the head coach has kept regularly in contact with me – I guess I’ve just been lucky with timing and that everything just seemed to drop into place.”

That head coach is Toutai Kefu who like Pellegrini is a Tongan Aussie who won 60 caps for the Wallabies. He is now able to call upon a glittering array of stars including former All Blacks Vaea Fifita, Augustine Pulu, Charles Piutau, Malakai Fekitoa and George Moala plus former Wallabies Lopeti Timani and Israel Folua following the recent change in regulations which permits players to represent a second nation.

Pellegrini modestly says he can’t quite believe the company he is keeping and is looking to soak up knowledge from the superstars around him then be involved and perhaps win a first cap in his country’s World Cup warm-up games against Japan and Fiji.

“I suppose I was a bit starstruck at first,” he says, “but they are all very easy to get along with and have been very helpful.

“I am learning all the time and working very hard to try and make a good impression and be part of the squad for our pre-World Cup warm-up internationals.

“If I can stay fit and everything goes well it’s on to Paris after that which to be honest is quite hard to take in.”



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Alfred 329 days ago

Tonga coach Toutai Kefu should give this bloke a shot. Looks like an exciting prospect. Mālie Tokoua 💪🇹🇴

Michael 330 days ago

An exciting talent. Great to see Tonga in World Cup, see how they do.

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