George North has been a virtual ever-present for Wales since making his debut in 2010 and admits the threat of being dropped from their starting line-up has caused him to raise his game for Northampton.
The 22-year-old has scored 19 tries in 45 appearances for his country but was warned by Wales coach Warren Gatland that he faced being left out of the final game of the autumn against South Africa. In the end Gatland did not have to follow through with his threat as North was ruled out of the game with concussion.
Looking back, the Welsh flyer joked: “I was concussed so I don’t remember it really – it’s the old black spot, it’s gone!” He added: “You know Gats, he likes to ask questions of players quite directly. He’s not afraid of putting questions to players. He’s the kind of guy that wants the best out of certain players. I put my hand up. I didn’t have the strongest autumn series and he just wanted to remind me of that.
“It’s about playing well and I’ve had that opportunity to put that right with the last few Premiership games and the last European games.”
North has been in superb form for Saints, scoring 11 tries in 14 games this season – most recently in the 20-9 European Champions Cup victory away to Ospreys on Sunday.
North was included in the 34-man squad for the Six Nations and is expected to start in the opening game against England at the Millennium Stadium on 6 February.
Wales have won the title twice in the last three years, and North believes they go into it with confidence high after finally ending their hoodoo against the southern hemisphere big three by beating the Springboks.
Whether it proves a watershed moment remains to be seen but North said: “It’s like anything. When you keep on doing it and don’t quite get there, you think it’s impossible. But once you break it once, the confidence is there that we are able to beat southern hemisphere sides, we just need to make sure we turn up on the day. It puts us in a better mindset going forward.
“The bigger picture was we managed to play at their tempo and put them under pressure for large portions. If you can carry that forward to the Six Nations, that’s the ideal.”
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