Rugby: Alex Allan is latest Capital rising star

Alex Allan, here playing for Edinburgh Accies, has won a Macphail Scholarship. Picture: Jane Barlow
Alex Allan, here playing for Edinburgh Accies, has won a Macphail Scholarship. Picture: Jane Barlow
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As sporting celebrations go it wasn’t quite in the class of Thomas Levet jumping in a lake to mark winning the 2011 French Golf Open and breaking his ankle, or athlete Alan Pascoe attempting to make one more leap of joy after claiming the 1974 Commonwealth Games 400m hurdles title and falling flat on his backside.

When Alex Allan should have been expressing delight at being the latest recipient of a Macphail Scholarship to the 
renowed Canterbury rugby academy in New Zealand, though, the Edinburgh prop was making the short journey from a Murrayfield training pitch to the local hospital.

An ankle problem sustained during a preparatory session for Friday’s RaboDirect PRO12 League game at Zebre left 21-year-old contemplating 
X-ray plates rather an a 
valedictory.

Indications are that the damage is not too severe and certainly shouldn’t restrict his rugby trip of a lifetime, surpassing those already made in the course of a 15-cap career at Scotland Under-20 level or on four occasions from off the bench into the hurly-burly of the senior game.

Nevertheless, it was left to Edinburgh’s rugby academy manager, Bryan Easson, who was part of the selection process, to sum up the qualities that had earned opportunities for Allan and Glasgow stand off Finn Russell.

Said Easson: “We were asked what players have the potential (to take full advantage) and the benchmark has been set by the likes of John Barclay, Grant 
Gilchrist, Roddy Grant and Harry Leonard (all among 
previous recipients).

“The benefactors want to know there are players with that level of potential around and the satisfaction for them comes with seeing John and Grant play for Scotland while Roddy and Harry have been turning out for Edinburgh in the Heineken European Cup.

“Alex was quite a straightforward choice to follow that lead.

“As a prop he can play both loose head and tight head and has played two European Cup games and a RaboDirect game against Ospreys. For a young prop to have done that already shows great potential. Like Robin Hislop, another young prop, Alex has been learning from the likes of Chunk (Allan Jacobsen), John Yapp, WP Nel and Geoff Cross.

“That puts them in a great place and on top of that comes the chance for Alex to go to New Zealand and bring more knowledge back.”

Allan, a regular with Accies when not required by Edinburgh and a one-time Sale Shark who made an appearance as a sub against Saracens did, in fact, relate his selection joy in a prepared statement.

It read: “New Zealand are world champions with a lot of pride and a lot of history. I hope to see why rugby is so good there and test myself in the 
environment that produces these players.

“It’ll be interesting to see what the difference is both on and off the rugby pitch.”

Russell, on the other hand, beamed with anticipation at 
returning to a country he 
visited as a tourist to catch up on family some time ago.

That visit was sufficient to imbue Russell, who started out at Falkirk, with an awareness of just what is required to reach the top.

“Rugby is in the blood; 
everybody lives and breathes the game.

“When I was at Falkirk before moving to Ayr (and winning the league this season) a couple of New Zealanders tried to persuade me to go out there and play.”

In fact, Russell stayed put to complete three quarters of a four-year apprenticeship in stonemasonry before putting things on hold to concentrate on rugby.

Now he hopes to chisel out a full-time career having sampled the RaboDirect when Glasgow beat Zebre a few weeks ago.

“At Canterbury they have the best stand off in the world – Dan Carter” said Russell, whose brother, Archie, is currently with the Scotland Under-18s, adding: “Hopefully I can learn a few things from Dan Carter . . . then come back to Scotland and hopefully be the next Dan Carter!”