Wasps boss Lee Blackett has described his excitement that Alfie Barbeary, the 20-year-old described in some quarters as England’s best young prospect, is back in harness as the 2020/21 season steps up in pace with this Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup round of 16 match versus Clermont. 

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The Coventry-based club have been enduring a difficult run of results in the Gallagher Premiership, winning just two of their last nine matches and looking increasingly likely to fall short of repeating last season’s progress to the Twickenham final of the tournament.  

However, they have seen a number of players marked absent for many of those losses become available in recent weeks, among them the youthful Barbeary who was voted the Premiership player of the month for December before suffering a syndesmosis ankle injury that required surgery. 

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Barbeary, who began December by being called into Eddie Jones’ England squad the week of the Autumn Nations Cup final, stepped off the bench to significantly help Wasps during the come-from-behind win at Newcastle on March 19 and he made his first start in 13 weeks last Saturday at home to Sale. 

The result – another Wasps loss – wasn’t kind and Blackett is hoping that Barbeary, who has scored five tries in eleven Premiership career appearances, can now take his frustrations out on French side Clermont when they visit the Ricoh.

“I thought he was really, really good,” said Blackett about how Barbeary fared in his 34-minute comeback at Kingston Park as a sub for Sione Vailanu. “When he came on against Newcastle I thought he was almost game-changing for us. He had a really good game. 

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“Probably wasn’t as busy as he would like to have been at the weekend against Sale but he is showing signs in training. One thing with Alfie, the difference you need to see in games is where he really comes alive, that competitive edge he has gets out there. He was pretty frustrated last week. 

“He is used to starring every single week so when he has a seven out of ten he is not happy with that. Alfie wants to be running through people, smashing people. That is what he prides himself on and he is getting back. I was really, really pleased with him against Newcastle. He was a game-changer for us and he was one of the people who got us a result up there. So I have been pretty pleased with how he has come back.”

Barbeary, who grew up idolising Manu Tuilagi, came through the ranks as a hooker, representing England at U20s. However, his involvement with Wasps has been in the back row and it is in that sector where Blackett believes the forward will spend the next while developing rather than in the front row.  

“I think at this moment in time we feel he is not ready there. The problem is if a couple of parts of his game are off at hooker he is probably not going to be on the field whereas as you have seen at this moment of time he has got such X-factor we just want him on the field playing for us and he is desperate. 

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“He is someone who probably doesn’t enjoy training that much but he loves being on the rugby field, he just wants to play rugby. He just wants to get out there and he is absolutely desperate to be out there so, at this moment of time, he is working on all the other stuff, we’re working pretty hard with him on the other stuff but at the moment for selection for Wasps we are thinking of him as a back row.”

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