Barba in line for French rugby debut
BEN Barba is set to make his rugby debut for Toulon next weekend, with coach Mike Ford lauding the NRL convert's training form.
With James O'Connor suspended for two games after his arrest over cocaine charges, Barba is in line to play for the glamour club in their next home game on March 12 against Bayonne.
Ford resisted the urge to parachute Barba into the team for this weekend's match at Brive after Wallaby Drew Mitchell overcame a hip injury to take the fullback jersey.
But Ford gave the greatest indication yet that Barba would be playing in Toulon colours within seven days.
"He is good, to be honest. First of all he's still understanding the game, I was just chatting to him this morning and he's really enjoying his time in Toulon," Ford said.
"He is very close to being selected, the way he is training.
"There's one or two things we still have to cover with him, but maybe you might see him against Bayonne next week."
Despite the absence of O'Connor for two games, Toulon will still field a world-class backline featuring Mitchell, Matt Giteau, Ma'a Nonu, Bryan Habana, Josua Tuisova, Mathieu Bastareaud and Alesana Tuilagi.
It's likely Barba would come off the bench for his debut in the round 20 clash in France's Top 14 competition.
O'Connor, meanwhile, will meet Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal next Tuesday to learn his fate.
The 26-year-old Australian had been negotiating a contract extension with the club but that was immediately put on hold when he and former All Black Ali Williams were arrested outside a Paris nightclub last weekend allegedly attempting to buy 2.4 grams of cocaine.
If Boudjellal decides not to offer O'Connor another contract, it's expected he'll look to other European clubs or a switch to rugby league with an English Super League side.