Warren Gatland all but confirmed yesterday that Wales are resigned to going into their opening Six Nations match against England without their record try-scorer Shane Williams.
The wing is to undergo surgery on the dislocated shoulder he suffered against South Africa and, despite the prognosis suggesting he could be back in 10 weeks, the Welsh camp believes he will not make the big Millennium Stadium kick-off on 4 February.
"We have our fingers crossed that he may be fit for the Six Nations, if only for a part of it," Gatland said. "We know Shane won't be around for ever, but it's a big blow. We'd been looking forward to seeing a nice mix between the two wingers in George North and Shane."
Fortunately for Gatland, North is as fit as he is raring to go. The Kiwi revealed that he gave the 6ft 4in teenager, who made such an impression on his debut with two tries against the world champions, the opportunity to sit out Friday's international against Fiji. The reply was very much in the negative. "If you offered any 18-year-old boy the chance to play for his country, what would he say?" said North, one of six to retain to his place as Gatland goes to his squad.
North may be joined on the pitch by another youngster in his first season of professional rugby. Toby Faletau, who turned 20 last week, was born in Tonga but qualifies on residency grounds. The Dragons backrower starts on the bench.
Wales (v Fiji, Millennium Stadium, Friday 7.30pm): L Byrne (Ospreys); G North (Scarlets), J Hook, A Bishop (both Ospreys), A Brew (Dragons); D Biggar (Ospreys), R Rees (Blues); P James, H Bennett, A Jones, I Gough (all Ospreys), D Jones (Blues), R Jones (Ospreys, capt), D Lydiate (Dragons)/M Williams (Blues), J Thomas (Ospreys).
Replacements R Hibbard (Ospreys), J Yapp, B Davies (both Blues), T Faletau (Dragons), M Phillips (Ospreys), S Jones (Scarlets), T Shanklin (Blues).