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'Really tough': What Barbeary found most challenging about England

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Dan Mullan/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

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Wasps boss Lee Blackett has given kudos to Alfie Barbeary, the uncapped 21-year-old back-rower who in recent weeks has managed to put midweek England rejection behind him to come back and play an impressive part in his club’s weekend Gallagher Premiership games. The youngster was named by Eddie Jones in the initial start-of-week squads for the recent Guinness Six Nations matches versus Scotland and Italy. 

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However, on both occasions he was released from the England squad in midweek after two days of training at Pennyhill, leaving him to go back to his club, overcome his disappointment at non-selection and then play in the league for Wasps. 

Barbeary was a starter in the win away to Exeter while he came off the bench after just five minutes in last Saturday’s victory of Bath which has lifted Wasps into fifth place on the table. 

The Test rookie is unavailable for this Saturday’s trip to defending champions Harlequins as he is one of the 25 players attending an England training camp through to the weekend, but Blackett has been impressed with how Barbeary has managed to absorb his Test squad disappointments in recent Six Nations match weeks and been able to go back to Wasps and not look out of place.  

“It’s really hard,” admitted the Wasps boss about the challenge involved for the young Barbeary having to split his time in a week between two teams and also cope with the disappointment of England rejection. “You just imagine yourself as a 20-year-old, 21-year-old going into an England camp for the first time giving it absolutely everything, everything for a couple of days to get yourself selected.

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“To use all that energy and then turnaround and find out you are not selected, to then go back to your club and try and pick yourself up and go again, it only comes with experience. You can have all the conversations you like but until you have experienced it, they won’t know the feeling. It was tough the first week for him, I accept that. 

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“I thought he did really well the second week. He was on the bench but came on really early and I am really happy with his performance. As I said, you can have the conversations around it but you have got to experience it to see and fair play to both him and Joe (Launchbury) last week, I thought both of them played well and did it well.”

The eagerness of Barbeary to have a game of some kind at the weekend was illustrated by his immediate reaction to getting cut by England. “Immediately he rang me as soon as he found out because he wanted to play,” said Blackett about the busy line of communication between club coach and Test squad player.  

“Sometimes you forget the emotion that has gone into the week and can you back it up going into another game? That is it. Say for example you go when we played Leicester we put so much emotion into that game to get the win that the following week we just made training really light. 

“We like to make training really competitive but we tried not to. We tried to make it easier because the amount of energy they used winning that game was incredible so you have got to look after them the following week. And it’s the same with this (England rejection), but the difference was he had to play a couple of days later. 

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“Look, it’s tough. It IS tough, but like I said that experience and the way he came back last week…. Joe has never done it before. That was the first time that Joe Launchbury ever done that, gone away and come back so I was really pleased with both of them.”

Players unwanted by England being allowed back to play for their clubs at the weekend this year is a marked difference compared to the 2021 tight bubble Six Nations where the uncapped Paolo Odogwu spent eight weeks in camp with England without playing and he was unable to go back to Wasps during that time to keep his form ticking over.

“Yeah it is (different) and most of those players want to come back, they just want to play rugby,” added Blackett, comparing the then and now.

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