Alfie Barbeary is too good to ignore and Eddie Jones knows it. It is only a matter of time before the Wasps sensation earns an England call-up and it could come as early as Tuesday.
Yes, there are a vast array of high-class English back-rowers to choose from, but the 21-year-old is worthy of a fast-track promotion – given that it would have already happened if he hadn’t been out for several months due to injury.
Sometimes, an X-factor talent must be accommodated, whatever the alternatives and this is one of those situations.
Wasps back-rowers Alfie Barbeary (above) has long been known as the next big thing
Within English rugby circles, Barbeary has long been known as the next big thing, but now the message is spreading fast. Last Saturday, his latest Man of the Match masterpiece occurred on terrestrial television, which means that his name is now more widely known. And it won’t be forgotten in a hurry.
Here are the bare bones of what he did against Toulouse; one try, 10 tackles, two turnovers, seven carries, six defenders beaten and 25 running metres. Just for good measure, he also conjured an interception, break and left-foot kick which almost yielded a try for Josh Bassett. Barbeary’s performance was freakishly brilliant and there have been plenty of those already.
The prodigy from Oxfordshire is just what Jones has been looking for, as a player with the repertoire to become a true international hybrid. At age-group level, he played at centre then ended up at hooker, before filling voids in the Wasps back row and ending up doing so well there that he stayed – with the ability to operate at blindside flanker or No 8, which is now his preference.
As recently as December, 2020, Wasps’ director of rugby, Lee Blackett, was joking about Barbeary’s enduring desire to cut loose in midfield, saying: ‘He says he wants to play centre and I’m not sure if he is joking or not.’
Barbeary’s performance was freakishly brilliant against Toulouse on Saturday
Last month, Barbeary revealed that he has not just abandoned the staples of his past role as a hooker, saying: ‘I still keep doing a bit of (lineout) throwing here and there.’
He has the ability to come through fast as a multi-purpose asset whose wide range of skills, allied to the physical clout of someone who weighs 18st, could allow Jones to make innovative, unorthodox match-day 23 selections.
At World Cups, utility value is especially important so Barbeary is destined to make the cut for the 2023 tournament if he blasts into Test rugby with the same primal carrying, jackaling conviction as he has brought to his game at club level.
As for other call-up contenders, it may be time for three more members of Harlequins’ champion squad; prop Will Collier, centre Luke Northmore and uncapped wing Louis Lynagh – who still also qualifies for Australia and Italy. Alex Lozowski’s form for Saracens means he deserves to be back on the Red Rose radar while Harry Randall is flying again for Bristol so his return is likely.
Wasps are rising fast
Lowering the colours of the European champions, a week after ending Leicester’s unbeaten start to the season, shows just how quickly Wasps have turned a corner.
The victory against Toulouse was a staggering feat – among the greatest in the club’s decorated history – given the absence of 19 players and the fact that they had to play most of the game with 14 men.
While the primary focus was on Barbeary’s heroics, there are various heroes of the recent resurgence, not least captain Brad Shields.
Injury-hit Wasps recorded one of their best victories ever with 14 men against the French side
His England hopes may have gone now, but the back-rower has led his side with herculean authority at a tough time. Hooker Dan Frost continues to make waves after stepping up from the Championship and massive prop Biyi Alo has delivered the performances of his life in the last fortnight, when Wasps really needed him.
Behind the scenes, former England defence coach John Mitchell is clearly having an impact, as was illustrated by the hosts’ tenacity in hurtling off the line time and time again to stop Toulouse building thunderous momentum.
Wasps are rising fast and they are playing well enough to justify far bigger crowds. If they keep taking prized scalps, the fans will surely come back in droves.
Euro boost for Newcastle
All the hassle and uncertainty – not to mention cost – turned out to be worth it for Newcastle, after all.
Having had to wait until mid-week to find out if French government travel restrictions would change, they proceeded to carry out what amounted to a smash-and-grab raid in Biarritz.
Newcastle carried out a smash-and-grab raid in Biarritz on Friday night
Their 17-13 Challenge Cup win by the Atlantic on Friday night hints at an enduring unity of spirit after a heavy home defeat against Northampton the previous weekend.
The result and the prospect of European knock-out rugby is a timely boost for Dean Richards’ side.
Scripted finish #1: Harlequins snatched victory at the death in Cardiff and – shock, horror – Marcus Smith did it again, with a late try and winning penalty. In other news, the world is round…
Scripted finish #2: Leicester rallied from a seemingly hopeless position to win in Connacht with a last-gasp try by Hosea Saumaki. The Tigers evidently have a re-usable ‘get out of jail’ card.
Top try: Raymond Rhule struck out wide for La Rochelle, after a cross-kick reached Brice Dulin and the France full-back chipped ahead and regathered. In the thick fog, it was a wondrous feat.
Sartorial trouble: European matches are a showcase of novelty kits seemingly designed by infants let loose in an art shop. Quins wore what might be called muddy green. Not a great look.
Swift admission: Connacht’s Ireland and Lions centre Bundee Aki was out or order for confronting referee Mathieu Raynal as he admitted in a public apology: ‘Absolutely not needed in this game.’
Touching gesture: French giants Racing 92 showed a caring side by coming to Swansea with a signed shirt for Ifan Phillips – the Ospreys hooker who had a leg amputated after a motorbike accident.
As the world waits to discover the full toll in Tonga after the volcanic eruption and tsunami in the region at the weekend, rugby must step up in the country’s time of need.
The sport has a duty to show that it cares, above and beyond sending best wishes. This is a time when the leading unions and clubs should combine forces to aid the stricken Pacific island nation, where there is such an oval-ball obsession and so much rugby talent.
In this part of the world, the RFU and Premiership clubs could do their bit, especially with so many leading Tongan players based in Europe.
It is surely feasible to arrange a Tonga game against the Saxons or a Premiership all-stars XV at Twickenham, perhaps as part of a double-header when England take on the Barbarians in their traditional end-of-season fixture.
And when Tonga is back on its feet again – hopefully with the benefit of considerable outside assistance – there must be a renewed push to arrange home Tests there. The sport owed them so much already, but now there is even more of a moral obligation to re-pay some of that colossal debt of honour.