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What England A expect from 'let me do my thing' Alfie Barbeary

By Liam Heagney
Bath's Alfie Barbeary (Photo by Patrick Khachfe/Getty Images)

England A skipper Charlie Ewels can’t wait to see what Alfie Barbeary, his Bath teammate, has to offer at international level. The 23-year-old was initially set to miss this Sunday’s fixture versus Portugal at Mattioli Woods Welford Road.

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A citing for dangerously tackling Max Spring in the sixth minute of his club’s Investec Champions Cup win over Racing at The Rec on January 14 resulted in a three-game suspension.

However, he was offered the opportunity to attend tackle school and successful completion struck the final game off his ban, freeing him to be selected for George Skivington’s England A team.

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He comes into the match not having played in six weeks, but Ewels insisted the No8 is ready to impress. “He is good to go,” he said when asked by RugbyPass about a player that Bath picked up last season when Wasps went out of business.

“I can’t give you any insights into his hairstyle at the moment but in terms of his style of play, he is going to want the ball as much as possible and he is going to want to carry as much as possible. He is a powerful carrier so that will be him.”

Bath were riddled with inconsistencies when Barbeary arrived in the 2022/23 season. However, they are a far more powerful unit this season.

They currently occupy third place in the Gallagher Premiership with seven wins from 12 games and have reached the last 16 in Europe with three wins in four. What has this collective improvement done for the promising back-rower?

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“He has brought what he did at Wasps, to be honest,” reckoned Ewels. “He probably did it a little under the radar at Wasps and he is probably doing it now and there is a bit more talk around him and everyone is just seeing how good a player he is.

“He is a brilliant ball carrier. His fundamentals are good. He is one of those lads who, no matter what is going on in the game, on the scoreboard, he just wants the ball. ‘Give me the ball, give me the ball early, give me time on the ball and let me do my thing’.

“Yeah, he’s confident and I’m looking forward to seeing him step up into international rugby. I’m looking forward to seeing if he can transfer it to this level.”

Aside from Barbeary, Max Ojomoh and Will Muir have also been chosen to start versus the Portuguese. Along with Ewels, that gives Bath four representatives in the starting XV – the biggest of any contributing club.

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“It’s four guys who have been playing very well in the league who have now got their opportunity to put their hand up internationally,” explained Ewels.

“You can be comfortable in your club environment: it’s people you know, it’s people you have been with for a long period, so let’s see how quickly those guys can come into a new environment with new players around them and see if they can still deliver the performances they have been delivering in a club shirt.”

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Poorfour 4 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

AI models are really just larger and less transparent variants of the statistical models that have been in use since Moneyball was invented. And a big difference between the Icahn centre’s results and AI today is that ChatGPT-like Large Language Models can explain (to some degree) how they reached their conclusions. In terms of what impact they will have, I suspect it will have two primary impacts: 1) It will place a premium on coaching creativity 2) It will lead to more selections that baffle fans and pundits. Analysts will be able to run the models both ways: they will see their own team’s and players’ weaknesses and strengths as well as the opposition’s. So they will have a good idea at what the other team will be targeting and the decisive difference may well be which coaches are smart enough to think of a gameplan that the other side didn’t identify and prepare for. For players, it places a premium on three key things: 1) Having a relatively complete game with no major weaknesses (or the dedication to work on eliminating them) 2) Having the tactical flexibility to play a different game every week 3) Having a point of difference that is so compelling that there isn’t a defence for it. (3) is relatively rare even among pro players. There have been only a handful of players over the years where you knew what they were going to do and the problem was stopping it - Lomu would be the classic example. And even when someone does have that, it’s hard to sustain. Billy Vunipola in his prime was very hard to stop, but fell away quite badly when the toll on his body began to accumulate. So coaches will look for (1) - a lack of exploitable weaknesses - and (2) - the ability to exploit others’ weaknesses - ahead of hoping for (3), at least for the majority of the pack. Which is likely to mean that, as with the original Moneyball, competent, unshowy players who do the stuff that wins matches will win out over outrageous talents who can’t adapt to cover their own weaknesses. Which will leave a lot of people on the sidelines sputtering over the non-inclusion of players whose highlights reels are spectacular, but whose lowlight reels have been uncovered by AI… at least until the point where every fan has access to a sporting analysis AI.

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