According to his own admission, Alfie Barbeary is unique. He is refreshingly candid. When asked about his ideal day, he quickly responds. Despite previously expressing his distaste for the gym, he doesn’t hesitate to say that he would probably spend the day at home watching rugby, enjoying a few pints with his father, and ending with a curry. He would also love to throw in a game of darts with his brother, as his father isn’t very good at it. This would be his ultimate perfect day.
A playful smile, a set of glistening earrings in his ears – “Mom wasn’t thrilled” – and a clear enthusiasm for life are additional hints that this individual may not fit the typical mold of a professional athlete with a personal nutritionist on call. But put this lively Bath No 8 on a rugby field, and – pow – there are few other players in the English club scene who possess such a strong presence and skill with the oval ball.
England will decide when to release the “Beast of Banbury”, who has been identified as a potential Test player since his youth, dominating opponents in Oxfordshire. His recent performance of scoring two tries against Exeter is a testament to his exceptional strength. Both Steve Borthwick and Richard Hill, a former England World Cup champion, will be present at Bath’s first Champions Cup match against Ulster to observe his skills. It is clear that they will be evaluating his form.
It has been evident for quite some time that Barbeary possesses a certain quality. While the number on his jersey may have changed throughout his career as a hooker and center, it was not as significant as his consistent ability to push through physical contact and force even the strongest adversaries backwards. His three successful tries in his debut Premiership match for Wasps at the age of 19 against Leicester in September 2020 showcased his self-assuredness. He stated, “When you’re that young, you have no fear. You either come out as a hero or you don’t. I would just go out and play and see what happened.”
Recently, a few uncertainties have emerged. In the last 15 months, he has had to undergo hamstring and knee surgery, significantly limiting his playing time. Additionally, the sudden financial collapse of his team, Wasps, forced him to find a new club and step out of his comfort zone. For the first time, he began to doubt himself. He recalls, “The hardest thing was when my knee injury happened after working so hard to recover from my hamstring injury. It was a terrible experience and probably the lowest point in my career. When I found out I needed surgery and would be out for six months… it was a tough period.”
As expected, his opponents began to pay more attention to him. Initially, Eddie Jones wanted to develop him as a hooker, so it was unclear which position would suit him best. Moving to Bath also required some mental adjustment. It was difficult to make a good impression on his new teammates while being injured. Despite being a highly-touted signing, he spent a lot of time in the gym. This was a challenge for him, as he is someone who simply loves playing. He is now learning to embrace all aspects of the game.
With the help of Bath’s medical head Rory Murray – “He knew that I’m not a gym freak” – he is now back close to full fitness. And even Barbeary is beginning to accept that spending a little less time partying with his old mates might not be an entirely bad thing. “There’s a bit of maturity starting to come out that probably wasn’t there in previous years. I’d love to be out there [with my mates] but unfortunately I just don’t have it in me any more. I think it’s just getting older.
After a match, my body is exhausted due to the intense nature of the Premiership. The players on the team are becoming increasingly larger, and some of them are incredibly muscular. I have been open about my dislike for the gym, but I am following a specific training regimen that allows me to continue playing. While I love being on the rugby field, I still have to put effort into other aspects of the game.
Ben Earl, Zach Mercer, Tom Curry, and Lewis Ludlam are all currently unable to play due to injuries. As time passes for Billy Vunipola, he may need to step up for Bath in the Champions Cup in order to progress to the next level.
I have always dreamed of playing for England, but I need to stay grounded and focus on improving my game and gaining confidence. Steve Borthwick and I have briefly discussed this and he advised me to keep working hard. Ultimately, it will be my performance that determines if I am chosen for the team.
In his prime, the cheerful and dark-haired Barbeary, whose mother Denise is a hairdresser but he prefers not to let her style his hair, has the potential to become England’s answer to South African and Leicester No 8 Jasper Wiese in terms of carrying the ball.
Barbeary is a devoted fan – “Our playing styles have similarities” – and during his time at Bloxham School, he also enjoyed watching Ma’a Nonu and Mathieu Bastareaud, who were also strong and fearless with the ball. “Many people told me when I was younger: ‘Once everyone else grows and catches up to you, you won’t be successful.’ But that’s just my natural way of playing. I empathize with my teammates because I am not sure where I am going on the field, and neither do they. It can be chaotic.”
In the event that he does make the decision to enter the Test arena, there will undoubtedly be plenty of excitement both on and off the field. His moniker at Bath is “Scranners” and he jokingly attributes it to food, although he cannot reveal the true reason. Despite this, there is a part of him that still desires to play at centre and show his skills alongside Finn Russell. However, upon further exploration, it becomes clear that this “big kid” has more ambition than he initially lets on.
“Undoubtedly, there is a desire to achieve more. However, I do not believe I have reached my desired level just yet.” If that entails reducing my consumption of beers and curries, then I am willing to do so.