Rugby

I’ve loved it – George North reflects on living Wales ‘dream’ after calling time

The 31-year-old has announced will retire from Test rugby after Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash with Italy in Cardiff.

George North is to retire from playing international rugby with Wales
George North George North is to retire from playing international rugby with Wales (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Wales star George North fought back tears as he reflected on an international career that saw him “live a dream”.

The 31-year-old has announced that he will retire from Test rugby after Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash with Italy in Cardiff.

He made his Wales debut as a teenager in 2010, touching down twice against South Africa, and has scored 47 tries for his country – a figure bettered only by Shane Williams.

George North made his Wales debut in 2010
George North George North made his Wales debut in 2010 (David Jones/PA)

North is third on Wales’ all-time cap list with 120 Test appearances behind Alun Wyn Jones and Gethin Jenkins, while he played in four Rugby World Cups and helped Wales win four Six Nations titles – including two Grand Slams.

He also toured Australia with the 2013 British and Irish Lions, which included him scoring a brilliant solo try in the first Test and then famously picking up and carrying Wallabies wing Israel Folau during the second game, and New Zealand four years later.

“It has not been an easy decision for me at all,” an emotional North said at Wales’ training base in the Vale of Glamorgan, pausing to regather himself on several occasions during a 20-minute press conference.

“It is the best thing for me and my family and the sacrifice everyone has to make.

“I didn’t think this day would come – I wished this day would never come – but for me it is about being able to go out on my terms and being able to enjoy it like I have for every second of the last 14 years.

“I am going to use this week and Saturday to really take it all in and to live my dream again one more time.

“For me, it has always been about me being the best I can be for Wales and being the best I can be with the Three Feathers on my chest.

“I have loved every second of it and cherished every second of it – the highs and the lows. I couldn’t have written it better myself, to be honest.

“I have been very fortunate to live a dream not many people get to do.”

North, who played the majority of his time with Wales as a wing before moving to centre and will join French club Provence next season, addressed his national squad colleagues on Wednesday.

And he underlined how he wants it to be business as usual when Wales strive for a first victory of this season’s Six Nations against Italy.

“I said (to the squad), let’s not get weird. This week is the same and the preparation is the same,” he added.

“I asked them for nothing to change from what we always do. For us, it is a must-win game and the focus should never be on one individual.”

North is the latest big-name Wales player to step down from the Test arena during a 10-month period that has also seen Jones, Justin Tipuric, Dan Biggar and Leigh Halfpenny call time.

“I was speaking to Becky (North’s wife, who is a double Olympic medallist), and when she stepped away from cycling. The conversation we have had plenty of times is, ‘when you know, you know’,” he said.

“Sometimes that is not the right answer and the answer is a fairy-tale answer or the fairy-tale finish. For me it has been a dream, and in my heart I know it is the right time for me to step away.

“I think my first cap is something that will always burn strong with me. It will put a smile on my face. At the time I said I had a list of goals at the back of my bedroom door, and I knocked out probably 95 per cent in one game!

“To me that really gave me the snapshot and the window to really push on to give me the fuel and desire to do what I’ve done for so long.

“You work until you are content, and that is when you can walk away with a smile on your face.

“I hope people will think of me as a Test animal, someone who would never give in, would give everything and left nothing out there.

“I have had my journey and I’ve loved it, and now it is time for those boys to have theirs and to love it as much as I have.”

North, who was omitted from the Wales starting line-up beaten 45-24 by France last weekend, replaces Joe Roberts against Italy on what his now his Wales farewell, with fellow centre Nick Tompkins returning instead of Owen Watkin.

Two other changes are in the pack, where Harlequins prop Dillon Lewis is preferred to Keiron Assiratti and Cardiff flanker Alex Mann packs down alongside back-row colleagues Tommy Reffell and Aaron Wainwright.