Wales star George North ready to make Welsh rugby history
Andrew Baldock, PA Rugby Union Correspondent, Marseille
George North will make Welsh rugby history on Saturday when he plays in his fourth Rugby World Cup quarter-final.
At 31 – and almost 13 years after he made his Test debut – North will complete an outstanding personal achievement.
Just two Welshmen have played more times for their country than 117 times-capped North, while only player – former wing Shane Williams – has amassed more tries than his current tally of 47.
And he can now add four successive appearances in the World Cup knockout phase when Wales tackle Argentina in Marseille on Saturday.
“I’ve got a slightly better haircut now than I did in 2011!” North said.
“I was obviously a lot younger man back then, and I think the standard of the game and my role within it, I am now a bit more of a leader rather than a follower.
“When I was 18 it was more of a case of enjoying everything that came with it and every second of the rugby.
“It was the first experience, and now obviously a few moons have passed, but I am still loving the fact we are here, we are fighting.”
North, now at outside centre for Wales after moving from the wing, remains as important a part of the Wales team as at any time throughout his career.
And he will be to the fore at Stade Velodrome this weekend if Wales are to reach a third semi-final in the last four World Cup campaigns.
“We have been very fortunate that we’ve been in some big games for Wales over the years, and that ability of processing and understanding what your role (is) within it and understanding you’ve got to deliver,” he added.
“We’ve been to a few of these, and our focus has basically been, ‘let’s not change anything’. The focus has always been about doing your job, doing what you do well and bringing it to the game.
“Gats (Wales head coach Warren Gatland), even before the mini training camps started (for the World Cup), made a very Gats speech after the last Six Nations game out in France.
“He set the tone very early. He was like, ‘it’s going to be tough, probably the hardest thing, and if you are not willing to work and give everything, let me know now and I won’t pick you’.
“So, from day dot you have always had this understanding, and that is the way we’ve always done it. We always work hard, we make no apologies about it and a big part of that is you can’t lose focus on the here and now.
“This is the pointy end of the stick now. Whether you win by one or 100 points, you have just got to get that result.”
Gatland handed North his Wales debut as an 18-year-old against South Africa in 2010, and he underlined the magnitude of the midfield powerhouse’s feat.
“He is one of the leaders within the group,” Gatland said. “He has a big input and contribution into the week, on and off the field – it is a fantastic accolade for him.
“I think we were pretty conscious in this World Cup about trying to create a midfield combination that is a little bit more settled. We know how many combinations that have been there in the last few years.
“I think that has helped the progress the team has made from an attacking perspective that we have kept George together in the midfield for as many games as we have.”
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