Baptism of fire awaits Barkley with instant return to Bath

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The Independent Online

The Gloucester director of rugby Dean Ryan – not, just at the moment, the ideal man to speak to without the protection of an asbestos suit – will decide over the next 24 hours whether to throw Olly Barkley into the fires of a West Country derby with Bath at the Recreation Ground this weekend. Barkley missed the Premiership defeat by Leicester on Sunday following a bout of surgery on his wrist, but Ryan, thoroughly disenchanted by the nature of Sunday's reverse, is sorely tempted to make a point by fast-tracking his major back-line signing into the starting line-up.

It would be an interesting debut for Barkley, to say the least. The accomplished England midfielder left Bath at the end of last season for reasons yet to be satisfactorily explained by the management, and as there is a long and cherished tradition at the Recreation Ground of extending the hand of friendship to turncoats and wrapping it warmly around their throats, the prospect of an early return would be enough to put another couple of thousand on the gate, if only the venue was sufficiently spacious to accommodate them.

In an ideal world, Ryan would probably prefer to give Barkley another week, even though the player took a full part in last week's contact-fuelled training sessions. However, Ryan Lamb's expensive goal-kicking failures against Leicester, allied to the ankle injury suffered by Anthony Allen, may persuade the selector-in-chief that he does not have the luxury of hanging around. Barkley is among the most reliable marksmen in Premiership rugby and can perform the outside-half and inside centre roles with equal facility.

In Wales, the star-spangled Ospreys have rushed their new half-back signing from the southern hemisphere, the New Zealander Jamie Nutbrown, into their squad for tonight's big Magners League meeting with Cardiff Blues at the Liberty Stadium. At the end of last week, Nutbrown was still on home turf, doing his thing with the Bay of Plenty provincial side. But with Mike Phillips, the first-choice scrum-half for Wales, still nursing injury and Justin Marshall leaving the club for a taste of Top 14 rugby in France, the Ospreys were keen accelerate matters.

Nutbrown will start on the bench in a game that sees another New Zealander, Filo Tiatia, make his 50th appearance for the regional side. However, the Ospreys are missing one or two useful players, besides the stricken Phillips. Gavin Henson will not play until next month following keyhole surgery to correct an ankle problem while Richard Hibbard, a dark horse for British and Irish Lions selection at hooker come the spring, is still recovering from an operation on his shoulder. Happily, Hibbard had just enough movement in his arm to sign a new four-year contract yesterday.

Ospreys expect a gate of 10,000-plus for the fixture, brought forward from a date in early October because of the Welsh involvement in the EDF Energy Cup. It will be a further sign of increased interest in club rugby. Last weekend, the six Premiership matches in England drew a combined audience of almost 95,000.

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