George North believes Wales have yet to hit top gear in this year’s Six Nations despite being one win away from a Grand Slam.
The Wales wing may have been part of a team that extended their winning run to 13 matches with an 18-11 victory over Scotland at Murrayfield, but North thinks there is far more to come.
Wales will host defending champions Ireland on Saturday in Cardiff where another victory will seal the Grand Slam and crown Warren Gatland’s side Six Nations winners for the first time since 2013.
However, a win for Ireland, coupled with a surprise home loss for England against Scotland, could see Joe Schmidt’s team retain the trophy.
“We’ve shown glimpses, but we haven’t really hit our straps yet,” said North.
“For us, we know there is another level there. We have just got to make sure we are on one page in terms of consistency and get a good week’s prep in and then focus on Saturday.”
North is well aware of the threat posed by Saturday’s visitors, who completed a solid 26-14 victory over France on Sunday to keep their championship hopes alive.
“Ireland are a quality team who have come to Cardiff before and done a job on us. We will debrief the Scotland game and we’ve only got a short turnaround, so it’s full steam ahead for Saturday now,” the Ospreys wing said.
“I guess Ireland have had a similar sort of tournament to us. They’ve shown great glimpses, but also not had the consistency. They are still dogging it out. It makes the last game very interesting.”
Standing in their way are Ireland – Gatland’s former side. Schmidt’s outfit might have been unconvincing in the championship to date, but their Grand Slam last year was followed by a famous November win over back-to-back world champions New Zealand. In 2018 leading Irish province Leinster also claimed a Guinness Pro14 and European Champions Cup double.
Gatland said: “We respect Ireland hugely for what they have achieved.
“They are No 2 in the world and their provinces have had a lot of success in the Pro14 and in Europe and sometimes it can breed a jealousy. You respect them, but you are desperate to beat them.
“That sometimes creates the edge. A lot of it stems from that. They have been incredibly successful and we have got to strive to do that.
“That creates competition. It is almost like a derby-type feeling. I know our group of players get incredibly motivated to play against Ireland. They want to beat them because a lot of them have been on the losing end on a number of occasions, particularly to their provincial teams.”
“It is going to be chaotic. We get the chance to play at home and there won’t be any lack of motivation for these players because they get to do something special.
“There is no doubt against England we were right on top of our game mentally and we need to be like that this week.
“The challenge for Ireland is they have a team with some older and experienced players. They are often the most dangerous because there is always a big match in an experienced team. You don’t always get as much consistency, but when it really matters they can turn on that big performance.”