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Alfie Barbeary compared to Bok World Cup winner and tipped to be 'premier' in Europe

By Josh Raisey
Alfie Barbeary of Bath Rugby with the ball runs in his team's fifth try during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Bath Rugby and Exeter Chiefs at The Recreation Ground on December 02, 2023 in Bath, England. (Photo by Patrick Khachfe/Getty Images)

Joint top of the Gallagher Premiership, two wins from two in the Investec Champions Cup- this has been a great start to the season for Bath, helped largely by their recruitment drive over the last two seasons.

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Of all clubs in England, Bath may have profited the most from the influx of available players that came from Worcester Warriors’ and Wasps’ collapse last season. One of those was No8 Alfie Barbeary, who had been touted as a future England player ever since making his Premiership debut for Wasps as a teenager.

No one has ever doubted the power he packs in contact, but the thing that has held him back has been the number of injuries he has already suffered at such an early stage in his career. Now 23, his head coach Johann van Graan believes his injury problems may now be a thing of a past.

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Once his injury problems are taken away, Bath are left with an elite ball carrier. In fact, van Graan thinks he is left with a player who can become the best ball carrier in Europe.

As a guest on The Rugby Pod this week, van Graan discussed his No8 at length, describing what an impact he has made on Bath since arriving in November 2022, and how he wants to make the former England under-20 star fitter.

“When I came into Bath, one of the big deficiencies that I saw was that this was a team without ball carriers,” the South African said.

“I tried to look in the Premiership who can be a premier ball carrier. If I use the example of Jasper Wiese, I looked at somebody who could be that guy. Then I targeted Alfie. When I met him the first time, I said ‘look, there’s a lot of things I can say, but the one thing I see in your game is that you can become the premier ball carrier here in Europe, and that’s why I want you in my team.’

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“I signed him when he had that big hamstring operation and said ‘look, I’ve got the utmost confidence in [the medical team] to get you right. We’ve got to have your buy-in.’ He worked so hard to come back against Leicester, he had one amazing carry which said to me yes, this is the guy. Then he got injured again and that was very difficult for him because he’s had some big disappointments from injuries. We took our time, we built him up and we potentially took one or two weeks longer in the Prem Cup, we brought him back against Exeter. In his professional career, this is the longest run of games that he’s had. So he’s well conditioned. We want to get him fitter, we want to make him more robust, but he’s made a massive difference to us.

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“He’s his own man, but he can carry a ball and he absolutely loves to run into contact.

“We’ve signed specific people in specific roles. It’s not about ‘that’s a nice player, let’s get him in.’ I’m looking for specific players and he fitted a premier ball carrier at No8.”

With a string of games under his belt this season, van Graan’s confidence in Barbeary is starting to pay off handsomely. The No8 scored a try in the Champions Cup win over Cardiff in Wales on Saturday, and proved to be quite a handful for his opponents while on the field.

With the Six Nations fast approaching, there are only a few more weeks for players to turn the head of Steve Borthwick. Barbearey will undoubtedly be on the head coach’s radar, and he will be wanting to make another statement this Saturday with a visit from Harlequins.

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Jon 1 days ago
Why Sam Cane's path to retirement is perfect for him and the All Blacks

> It would be best described as an elegant solution to what was potentially going to be a significant problem for new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson. It is a problem the mad population of New Zealand will have to cope with more and more as All Blacks are able to continue their careers in NZ post RWCs. It will not be a problem for coaches, who are always going to start a campaign with the captain for the next WC in mind. > Cane, despite his warrior spirit, his undoubted commitment to every team he played for and unforgettable heroics against Ireland in last year’s World Cup quarter-final, was never unanimously admired or respected within New Zealand while he was in the role. Neither was McCaw, he was considered far too passive a captain and then out of form until his last world cup where everyone opinions changed, just like they would have if Cane had won the WC. > It was never easy to see where Cane, or even if, he would fit into Robertson’s squad given the new coach will want to be building a new-look team with 2027 in mind. > Cane will win his selections on merit and come the end of the year, he’ll sign off, he hopes, with 100 caps and maybe even, at last, universal public appreciation for what was a special career. No, he won’t. Those returning from Japan have already earned the right to retain their jersey, it’s in their contract. Cane would have been playing against England if he was ready, and found it very hard to keep his place. Perform, and they keep it however. Very easy to see where Cane could have fit, very hard to see how he could have accomplished it choosing this year as his sabbatical instead of 2025, and that’s how it played out (though I assume we now know what when NZR said they were allowing him to move his sabbatical forward and return to NZ next year, they had actually agreed to simply select him for the All Blacks from overseas, without any chance he was going to play in NZ again). With a mammoth season of 15 All Black games they might as well get some value out of his years contract, though even with him being of equal character to Richie, I don’t think they should guarantee him his 100 caps. That’s not what the All Blacks should be about. He absolutely has to play winning football.

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