Rugby

Wales centre George North to retire from international rugby after Six Nations

The 31-year-old will hang up his boots after Saturday’s game against Italy.

George North says it feels like “the right time to step away”
George North George North says it feels like “the right time to step away” (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Wales centre George North has announced that he will retire from international rugby after Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash against Italy.

North, who has won 120 caps, has been recalled to the Wales team for what is a wooden-spoon decider.

He wrote on X: “I’ve decided that the game on Saturday will bring my international career to an end.

“After 14 years it feels like now is the right time to step away. I have loved and cherished every second in a Welsh shirt and been able to play alongside some fantastic team-mates.

“I’ve been very lucky to have lived my dream. I’m excited for the next chapter.

“Thank you for all your support over the years.”

North made his Wales debut as an 18-year-old against South Africa and has gone on to score 47 tries for his country, a figure bettered only by Shane Williams.

The 31-year-old also toured Australia with the British and Irish Lions in 2013 and then New Zealand four years later.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland paid a glowing tribute to North.

“George has contributed hugely to Welsh rugby in an incredible career, starting as an 18-year-old,” Gatland said.

“The way that he burst onto the scene… I can remember seeing him play and thinking we need to cap this kid.

“He’s been incredible as a rugby player, but I think the most important thing is how he’s contributed to the squad as a person over the years.

“How positive and encouraging he’s been within and around the group, things that people wouldn’t have seen in terms of what he has organised off the field.

“George has been outstanding and a credit to himself. He can definitely hold his head high. He and his family and friends can be very proud of everything he has achieved.

“I look forward to watching George play at Principality Stadium one final time in a red jersey on Saturday, and I hope everyone will join me in celebrating him. Diolch George.”

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

Wales captain Dafydd Jenkins, who featured at blindside flanker against France, returns to the second row
Wales Training and Press Conference – Vale Resort – Thursday February 8th Wales captain Dafydd Jenkins, who featured at blindside flanker against France, returns to the second row (Ben Birchall/PA)

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.

Wales captain Dafydd Jenkins, who featured at blindside flanker against France, returns to the second row alongside Adam Beard, with Will Rowlands dropping to the bench.

Also among the replacements are uncapped Scarlets prop Harri O’Connor and Cardiff hooker Evan Lloyd, who made his Test debut against France.

Wales have not finished bottom of the Six Nations since 2003, when they lost all five games, but that fate now awaits them if they fail to beat Italy.

Wales are currently four points adrift of the Azzurri, who will arrive in Cardiff following a victory over Scotland and draw with France.

Bonus points could still come into the equation in terms of deciding which team props up the table, but Wales are in control of their own destiny.

Gatland added: “This is an important game for us. We definitely don’t want to finish bottom, and the squad is hungry to win.

“Italy have quality players throughout the side and have been good at taking opportunities when they get them to keep the scoreboard ticking over.

“We are excited and will step up and welcome the challenge ahead.

“We are still looking for that 80-minute performance and have spoken about needing to be better in the big moments, especially.

“We understand that external pressure and expectation comes with international rugby.

“It is about embracing that, continuing the hard work and fronting up in training to go out there and be accurate and disciplined on Saturday.”