Wales unleash 'monster' North on South Africa

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The Independent Online

Wales will unleash a teenaged winger who Shane Williams labels "a monster" on the world champions at the Millennium Stadium tomorrow. George North, all 6ft 4in, 17st and 18 years of him, will be making his debut against the Springboks amid inevitable comparisons with Jonah Lomu.

North is a curio in more respects than just his immense size, pace and power. He was born in Norfolk, has a Yorkshire father, but is a Welsh speaker having moved to Anglesey at the age of two. The buzz at the Scarlets suggests he is very much England's loss.

Warren Gatland revealed yesterday that had he not been injured last week, he would have faced Australia. But with his ankle now recovered he takes over on the right wing from Will Harries. Gatland is plainly expecting big things from North. Very big.

"Potentially, he's a little bit special," said the Kiwi. "George might only be young but he really set the start of the season on fire with his form for the Scarlets [with whom he scored four tries in as many games]. The last time I saw a pair of thighs like that was on some of the Samoans back in New Zealand."

Williams concurred, although to him, North triggers the memories of a certain All Black of Tongan descent. "George is a monster," said the record Welsh try-scorer. "Would I compare him to Lomu? Physically, I probably would. And he also has great feet and hands just like Jonah did. I played against him for the Ospreys and the Scarlets crowd were singing 'George is going to get you'. We've had a giggle about that. There's no bigger test for him than this; playing not only against the world champions but also lining up against my old mate Bryan Habana. But I have no qualms in saying he will come out on top."

Habana said yesterday that North's inexperience is "something we may target. But he would be well advised not to turn the confrontation into a contest of strength."

Matthew Rhys, North's captain for club and country, said: "Despite being 18 and a wing, he's the strongest player in the entire Scarlets squad, in terms of power-output in the gym and lifting weights. He's unbelievable. As soon as I saw him make his debut in August against Gloucester I said he would be a force."

And so it is proving, although the Welsh officials clearly believe he requires some protection as he wasn't made available for the press yesterday. "A couple of months ago I was starting the season with the Scarlets and now I am here," he said via a statement. "I am shocked, it has taken my breath away."

His elevation was the most notable selection in a XV that provides few surprises as Gatland looks to add a cutting edge to his team. Lee Byrne returns at full-back leaving James Hook free to move to inside-centre, while Gatland has resisted bringing back either of his Lions backrowers, Ryan Jones or Andy Powell.

Neither has Gatland heeded calls to drop half-backs Mike Phillips and Stephen Jones after their ineffectual attacking display. Both retain their places with Shaun Edwards providing the staunchest defence. "Between them they made three of four try-saving tackles," he said.

Wales (v South Africa, Millennium Stadium, 2.30pm, tomorrow): L Byrne (Ospreys); G North (Scarlets), T Shanklin (Blues), J Hook (Ospreys), S Williams (Ospreys); S Jones (Scarlets), M Phillips (Ospreys); G Jenkins (Blues), M Rees (Scarlets, capt), B Davies (Blues), A-W Jones (Ospreys), D Lydiate (Dragons), M Williams (Blues) J Thomas (Ospreys). Replacements H Bennett (Ospreys), P James (Ospreys), R Jones (Ospreys), A Powell (Wasps), R Rees (Blues), A Bishop (Ospreys), C Czekaj (Blues).