Six Nations: George North - 'In rugby terms, everyone hates the English'
Welsh winger would love to stop old enemy taking the Slam and, he tells Kevin Garside, so would his dad – even though he's from England
There was no sense that another pitch invasion was imminent as the try-scoring hero of the Paris snatch, George North, and his father, David, enjoyed some post-training down time at the Welsh headquarters in Cardiff. Dad was interested in how the session went, George assured him the boys were ready to go.
It could all change on Saturday, of course, as the Grand-Slam chasing English offer the lofty hauteur of Empire for Welsh consideration at the Millennium Stadium. Wales are seeking a first victory of the campaign on home turf against a rival reviled for at least 80 minutes a year. Though David North is English, when the whistle blows he carries the colours of Wales as proudly as his deified namesake, evidenced by the glorious celebration of his son's try against France.
George has warned that any repeat on Saturday risks filial retribution in the shape of a hit from him: "My dad became an adopted Welshman a few years ago. We sort of adopted him after my first cap. I've already told him that I've got him a ticket for the back left-hand side so he can't get near the pitch. If he does come on I've told him I'm going to bat him this time."
North is every bit the freak of nature that Manu Tuilagi is for England, and a huge threat to English ambition. It is difficult to reconcile the idea that 20-year-old boys can fill out 6ft 4in, 17st physiques so authoritatively.
Size is one thing, calm another as the frenzy of a Six Nations decider begins to bubble in this most partisan of sporting cities. There is a deep antipathy towards the Cross of St George not entirely explainable in sporting terms. Max Boyce made a living out of it, setting to music and mirth the tension that has simmered these past 800 years since Edward I took what had been in the possession of Llywelyn the Last. North described the atmosphere diplomatically if not convincingly: "You try to keep a cool head and retain focus while everybody you see in the street is saying make sure you smash their heads in.
"Wales is a massive rugby nation. Every time we play England with the long, long rivalry it seems everyone wants to see a bloodbath. In rugby terms everyone likes to hate the English. They are a great team with a winning past. That's not a bad thing to have. It's not like we hate them because they are nasty people, they are just a good scalp to have."
This is the subliminal dimension enveloping this game. It is not just that there is a game to be won at home for the first time this year, not only that there is a Six Nations Championship to be retained. The Welsh scent the blood of Englishmen. In Cardiff there is no greater rugby pleasure to be had than to witness the emasculation of an England team. That victory would deny England the Grand Slam simply deepens the elixir.
Reared in Anglesey, schooled in Llandovery and a fluent Welsh speaker, North intuits this unique environment as deeply as any. His coping strategy is to reach for the ubiquitous headphones beloved of youth and pretend he's out walking the dog. "It's a big game. You can't get beyond that. I'm just trying to focus and get ready. Growing up in Wales playing England has always been a massive game. I'm a bit more controlled than my father.
"If you cut all the emotions out of it then it's just another fixture isn't it? Just 15 against 15. That's the way you have to look at it. You have to make sure that come Saturday your head is in the right place and that everybody knows his role. That's the way I have always set up. You can easily get caught up in the occasion otherwise."
And what an occasion. "Standing in the tunnel is a special moment. Every Welshman wants to experience it. The noise, the atmosphere, you can hear the crowd as you come out of the changing room and as you run out it's just a sea of red and noise. And then those flames go off."
North is considered the pre-eminent wing in the northern hemisphere, the 21st century footballer combining the physical dimensions of a back row forward with the pace and dexterity of a wide destroyer. The try he popped in Paris ended a barren streak that stretched back to a match against Australia last June, and reinforced his credentials as a finisher of the highest class. The comparison with underwhelming England wing Chris Ashton is one of the fascinating aspects of Saturday's encounter.
The video replay button at the Welsh HQ has been stuck on Ashton, one of the areas of weakness in the English defence in which Wales see profit to be had. Again North was too polite to single out his opposite number for special treatment but the discussion brought a twinkle to his eye. Since that first 20 minutes against Ireland in this stadium six weeks ago, Wales have stripped the game back to fundamentals, cut out the errors and narrowed the focus. The result has been a hat-trick of wins on the road that has given them a shot at glory on Saturday. An eight-point win is the requirement though seven might suffice depending on the try count.
"We have not had the best home form of late but after the run we have had away we are in a good place. To have a chance to win the title after losing the first game and the hard run of three games on the road is right up there. Even during the run of losses, we did not get down on ourselves. We felt at times that we had played some good rugby just missed out on a few little things. The boys stuck together as a unit and stayed strong as a squad, which shows the strength of this team."
Welsh giant: North in numbers
2010 North made his Wales debut against South Africa in November 2010, in a 29-25 defeat
18 His two tries that day made him the youngest player to score on debut for Wales, aged 18 and 214 days
30 Appearances for Wales – one as a substitute – scoring 12 tries
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