IN a political era dominated by Brexit, national identity has become a much-discussed topic. But Tommaso Allan was confronted with an identity crossroads long before the divisive EU referendum.

In 2013, the promising fly-half found himself at the centre of a tug-of-war between Scotland and Italy, with both countries keen to offer the 20-year-old his first shot at senior international rugby.

The Scots might have seemed the more likely option at the time, as Allan had represented the country of his father at youth level and was from good Scottish rugby stock, his uncle being former Scotland hooker and Five Nations winner John Allan.

But, despite his tartan-tinged surname, Allan had never lived in Scotland, had no immediate family there and remained deeply rooted to Italy, the land of his birth where he had been brought up for nine years by an Italian mother before moving to England for his schooling.

Allan ultimately followed his heart and, as the Benetton stand-off prepares to line up against some former team-mates when Italy face Scotland at Murrayfield in their Six Nations opener on Saturday, he remains convinced five-and-a-half years later that he made the right call.

“I always felt Italian,” he says. “I was born in Italy, grew up there for half of my life, so I had strong links to Italy and when they asked me I was happy and accepted.

“I don’t live with ‘what ifs’. I’m happy with the decision I made and with everything that’s happened. I have no regrets at all. The way my career has panned out, I think it’s all due to the decisions I’ve made.”

“My uncle didn’t put any pressure on me. He knew that whatever decision I made was the right one. He never pushed me in any way. He was happy once I made my decision.

“My dad always cheers for me, no matter what team I play for. When it comes to Italy v Scotland he’s a strong Italy supporter.”

Allan’s first involvement in the Scotland set-up came when he caught the eye as a teenager at London Scottish, and he went on to represent the country from Under-17 to Under-20 level.

Coming through the ranks at the same time were some familiar names, including members of the 2019 Six Nations squad like Finn Russell, Jonny Gray and Ali Price – players who have helped the Scotland team make significant progress in recent years.

“There is no surprise about where they’ve come to or the way Scotland are playing,” said Allan. “That’s due to the way these players have developed and improved the Scotland team altogether.”

The fixture will always be a special occasion for Allan, giving him a chance to front up against former team-mates, but he insists he won’t return to Edinburgh with a point to prove.

“It’s always fun. There are a couple of cheap shots, you joke around,” he said. “It does have an extra aggressiveness to it, because you always want to beat up your mates, but then after the game it’s nice to catch up, have a beer and talk about what just happened.

“It’s a cool feeling to play against friends who you’ve shared a pitch with and trained a lot with, to see that everyone’s made it and just talk about it all after the game.

“I’ve been playing for Italy for five or six years now. It’s nice to play against people you know, but that’s it really. I take it as any other game. You shouldn’t take it as anything else or you put too much pressure on yourself.”

Italy’s last win in the Six Nations came against Scotland at Murrayfield in 2015, but since then the Azzurri have picked up the wooden spoon in three consecutive years, losing every game.

But with three home matches lined up against Wales, Ireland and France this year, Allan is hopeful that a turning point is on the horizon, having failed to record a Six Nations win in Rome since stunning Ireland in 2013.

“We know that if we play at the level we’re capable of we can compete with pretty much any team, it’s just about doing it every game now,” he says.

“It’d be nice to win some home games this year.

“The first game against Scotland in Murrayfield will be tough but we’re not going there just to make up the numbers, we’re going to go there to win.

“Scotland has always been a very close game to play in. Hopefully we can cause a couple of upsets this year. It would be nice. We’ve got the players to do it and play a good style of rugby now.

“Conor O’Shea is a very positive coach. He has brought a whole different structure to our game, a will to attack as well, we were very conservative beforehand but now we look to play a bit more.

“He’s a great coach with a lot of experience and he backs us as players in what we’re trying to do, so it’s great to have him. I think he’s improved Italy Rugby and I hope he stays for a few more years.”

Allan may have turned down Scottish advances in the past, but he is leaving the door open for a potential return at club level.

“Never say never,” he said. “At the moment I have another year-and-a-half at Benetton and we’ll see after that. I’m not closing any options”