Rugby Sport

George North opens up on Wales career, concussion issues and more

by Tom Walker

After only previously being subjected to mundane, PR induced interviews from professional footballers and other athletes alike who have been media trained to within every inch of their life, it’s fair to say I was relatively sceptical heading into this ‘evening with George North’ hosted at the Blake Theatre in Monmouth.

But much to my delight, we were treated to an evening filled with laughs and stories dating all the way back to his humble beginnings in North Wales.

It could not have been easy for North, who only two days prior had been forced off 11 minutes into a crucial Six Nations clash against France following a big collision with French winger Gael Fickou. But he was still in great spirits, explaining how he felt he could have come back on to see out the rest of the match.

It has not been an easy few years for the man currently playing at the Ospreys. He has come in for plenty of criticism for his performances, but he was keen to point out that he is his own harshest critic and believes his performance levels can reach the heavy heights he has previously set throughout the early years of his career.

But, if tries are what defines a winger’s value to a team, then North has actually only upped his game since 2014. The Welshman scored 19 tries in 45 games between 2011 and 2014, whereas since the turn of 2015, he has scored 22 in 45 matches, including one against Italy in this year’s Six Nations campaign.

He said he tries to avoid the criticism levelled at him in the media, but as is the current state of affairs, it is almost impossible to not see things written about you. Despite the number of head injuries – he jokingly eluded to throughout – North clearly has a grip on the current state of society, demonstrating a great knowledge of the current state of the media and the effect upon athletes’ mental health.

His passion for the game, and for his national team, was clearly demonstrated when asked what is was like to play for Wales by a young boy. A smile instantly rose upon hearing the question: “There is not a feeling like it” he replied, describing how he would have been over the moon to just have the one cap, let alone approaching 100.

At the age of 27, North still has a lot to offer this new look Welsh side. Following the 2019 World Cup in Japan, Wales’ coaching staff underwent a complete overhaul, with Head Coach Warren Gatland departing, along with defensive coach Shaun Edwards, who was back at the Principality as part of the French setup.

North described the strange feeling of coming into the Six Nations training camp with a whole new coaching staff, as Gatland has been all he has known since his time in the Welsh first-team squad. He amusingly described how he was not sure whether to give long time teammate, now coach, Sam Warburton a hug or handshake upon first greeting him earlier this year.

Wayne Pivac, Gatland’s replacement, has already shown his faith in North, starting him in every test match so far despite calls for him the be dropped in favour of Johnny McNicholl.

With the task of regaining the Six Nations title looking fairly unlikely following two losses from three, the remaining matches against England and Scotland will be about getting to grips with Pivac’s playing style and integrating those who are new to the squad.

To round off the evening, North generously auctioned off some of his personal Lions memorabilia, with the money raised going towards restoring Lydney Rugby Club after being hit hard by Storm Dennis. This generosity highlights his passion for the game and his humility, before being met by a resounding round of applause when walking off the stage.

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