Rugby

Retiring George North confident Wales can recover from difficult Six Nations

The centre made the last of his 121 Wales appearances in Saturday’s defeat to Italy.

George North bowed out of Test rugby against Italy
George North George North bowed out of Test rugby against Italy (Joe Giddens/PA)

George North delivered a message of hope for Welsh rugby as he departed international rugby on crutches after Wales’ wooden spoon nightmare became reality.

There was no fairytale finish for North on his 121st and final Wales appearance, with Italy’s 24-21 victory at the Principality Stadium leaving Warren Gatland’s team propping up the Six Nations table.

Amid the doom and gloom, though, North spoke of “shining lights” as an extensive rebuilding job now moves to the next phase – facing world champions South Africa at Twickenham before two Tests against Australia Down Under.

While North prepares to see a specialist on Monday, Gatland and his staff will continue an extensive review into Wales’ worst Six Nations campaign since 2003.

“We have spoken about it honestly, and I think you have to in these times. We know where we are as a squad,” said North, whose Wales career included four Six Nations titles, two Grand Slams, four World Cup campaigns and 47 tries.

“The boys know the standard. Gats (Wales head coach Warren Gatland) drives that, the coaches drive that, but it is going to take time for us to get there.

“There are some real positives coming through, some shining lights, we have just got to give them time.

“Unfortunately, we are in the results business and the results business waits for no man.

“What a great challenge now for these boys to go (against) South Africa and Australia at the end of a long World Cup year. It is the experience they need to build that resilience and robustness into them and drive forward.

“The public have been incredible with their support for the boys, and all I would say is keep believing in them.

“The talent is there – I have seen it first-hand. The talent is immense, we’ve just got to give it time. I don’t think we are too far away from clicking.

“You have to get through this bit to get to the good bit.

“I was very fortunate I had a few more people to hold my hand when I was their age and show me how to go about winning. Once you know how and win once, you know.”

Asked about Gatland’s offer to step down, North added: “That wouldn’t solve much, would it?

George North is the latest senior Wales international to retire from Test rugby
George North George North is the latest senior Wales international to retire from Test rugby (Joe Giddens/PA)

“He knows how to get the best out of boys, especially with where we are. He’s done it before, but like I said, it takes time.”

North must wait to discover if he will return to action for the Ospreys this season ahead of joining ambitious French club Provence for next term.

But he will no longer be seen in the red jersey of Wales as he follows players like Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric, Dan Biggar and Leigh Halfpenny into Test retirement during the last 10 months.

“People don’t always get the fairytale ending they want,” North said. “With two minutes to go I thought I might have had a chance to take it all in, but then obviously stuff happens.

“I am still incredibly proud of what I’ve achieved and how I went about my work. To be able to do it (bow out) at home is incredibly special.

“I’ve said to everyone at the Union the amount of messages I’ve had since I made my announcement has been incredible, and I can only say a massive thank you for the support from everyone.”