At the last World Cup, George North was a wide-eyed teenager in the infancy of his career. His forfeit for being the youngest member of the squad was to carry around a Welsh lovespoon with him: that particular honour has now passed from Hallam Amos to Tyler Morgan since the latter was called up as injury cover for Cory Allen.
North was also labelled the “Welsh Jonah Lomu” in his teen years but is more commonly known as “Man Child” these days, the 23-year-old in age terms a relative novice but with 53 caps to his name.
Four years on, North, the youngest man to reach a half-century of international rugby caps, has became an elder statesman and, while much has been made of the explosive possibilities from England’s back three, the 6ft 4in Welsh wing can be just as devastating on the break.
As he prepares to face England at Twickenham, what has North learnt in the four years since his first World Cup?
“It has generally been about working out where I can be a pain,” he says. “I think it’s my overall understanding of rugby and of how the game works and the passages of play where I am best used, having to adapt to the modern game – and being marked out of the game.”
North is used to having his threat nullified by defences aware of his obvious attacking prowess. It has led to games in which personal possession has been limited, something for which he berates himself – as do the Wales head coach, Warren Gatland, and his assistant, Rob Howley.
“It’s like tag team between him [Gatland] and Howlers,” says North. “Obviously, everyone says that the more touches you can have in a game the more impact you can have and no one gets more frustrated when I don’t get any ball than myself. It has been put to me for the last two seasons and I imagine it is something I will have until the end of my career. It is about concentrating my mind, knowing when to work and making sure the work is proper.
“I think the more Hallam, Sanjay [full-back Liam Williams] and I can get our hands on the ball, the quicker the tempo we can get, the better it will fall into our game plan.”
As the son of an English father, David, who famously joined his son on the pitch when he scored in Paris in the 2013 Six Nations, England-Wales means more to North than most fixtures. There was never any suggestion, though, that he might opt for English colours when it came to international duty.
Of late it has simply been about getting into a rugby jersey of any colour, having had a lengthy lay-off from March because of concussion and only returned to action in the World Cup warm-up game against Ireland.
He begged Gatland to name him in the starting line-up for Wales’ World Cup opener against Uruguay but had his advances turned down, meaning he is champing at the bit to get playing again.
“I’m no good sat still,” said North. “Naturally, I questioned why I wasn’t playing but when the boss man says ‘no’ you can’t argue. I have got my chance this Saturday and am looking forward to it.”
The huge significance of the game is not lost on him either. “You look at our group and everyone called it the Group of Death; obviously, it is deathly hard and our first big test comes [tonight].
“You could argue to and fro whether it is the biggest game, I guess. If you look at what we have got to come, to get a win against England – regardless of a bonus point – would be brilliant.”
And the Welsh Lomu will be hoping to make his mark.
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