THERE was always a sense that Alfie Barbeary could go far.

The hooker, who came through Banbury Bulls’ youth system, achieved his latest milestone this week with a call-up to the England squad for Sunday’s Autumn Nations Cup final against France.

Barbeary has taken the Premiership by storm since scoring a debut try for Wasps against Worcester Warriors in August, showing a level of confidence unsurprising to those who know him best.

The 20-year-old is close to cousin Tommy Gray, himself a fly-half for Banbury, who saw the same attitude on family holidays many years ago.

He said: “From a young age Alfie loved lots of sports and rugby always seemed to come naturally.

“He was five or six years old making tackles on the beach. He was a little monster.”

Barbeary grew up in Deddington and joined Banbury aged eight, playing under Mark Parker, Nigel Higgs and Mark Horrocks.

The latter was head coach of the club’s minis section and his son Harry was part of the same talented group as the future Wasps forward.

Horrocks said: “At that age it was tag rugby, which wasn’t Alfie’s forte and he played it in a very direct way.

“As soon as contact came in he was in his element.

“We always worked a lot on ball skills and I think the style of rugby we played rubbed off on him.”

As well as being part of a side that won several Oxfordshire Cups at youth level, Barbeary benefitted from playing rugby with older brother George in the field by their house.

He also credits Gray with teaching him the footwork that has already seen him score six Premiership tries.

The 33-year-old said: “I’ve always been one of the smaller guys on the field, so I could only get away from people with a bit of footwork.

“That was the only thing I could pass on as he had everything else.

“Alfie can match people physically, but he’s got that deft little step that just sees him stand out from everyone else.”

Horrocks moved Barbeary to inside centre when contact rugby started and he became the stand-out performer in his mid-teens, when he was picked up by Wasps.

With the support of parents Nick and Denise behind him, he progressed and was part of the England Under 20 squad for last year’s Six Nations and World Rugby Championship.

But Barbeary truly burst onto the scene when he scored a hat-trick on his full debut against Leicester Tigers in September.

Even in the Premiership, Horrocks can see similarities with the player he coached at Banbury.

He said: “He’s always had the ability to instinctively know what to do.

“He’s got a good appreciation of space and even now if there’s a break in play he wants the ball in his hands.

“Every challenge that’s been in front of him he’s excelled at – that shows an innate talent and confidence.”

Gray and Horrocks admit some surprise at how quickly Barbeary has progressed, but they always knew he had the ability.

While the 20-year-old is unlikely to get on the pitch against France, he may not have to wait long for his chance.

Horrocks said: “I’m a bit surprised at the speed, but he’s been a big name in junior rugby for a long time.

“He’s got everything he needs to be successful.”

Gray added: “Against Worcester we were just hoping for him to get through safely, but the follow-up against Leicester was unbelievable.

“When he does get that first cap it’ll be great for the family.

“Hopefully we’ll be out of lockdown so we can watch him live.

“I know his mum and dad will be there as soon as they can. Everyone’s so proud of him.”