George North has revealed the Wales squad were told “a few porkies” about their World Cup build-up this summer.
The Ospreys wing – who is preparing for his third tournament at the age of 27 – was expecting a gentle introduction into the training schedule meant to bring the players to a peak for Japan in September.
Instead, North has revealed the squad have had a heavy workload at their Vale of Glamorgan base and the fitness efforts will soon be ramped up again when they head for a training camp in Switzerland.
The Lions wing, who was just 19 when he went to his first tournament in France in 2011, admitted: “They told us a few porkies about the first few weeks being a nice build-up to what’s coming.
“But it’s been savage and I can’t imagine what’s to come.
“This is the start of week three for myself, although some of the boys came in a bit earlier. It has been nice to get back in the environment with the lads, but it’s a case of deep breaths and keep on moving because it has been pretty savage.
“That said, I’m just so excited. It seems harder work to when I was 18, but the World Cup is special and everyone is grafting.
“It’s a big squad and we all know it’s going to get cut down. You’ve got to get good volume in your legs and lungs in these early weeks to get in the best position for that last selection.
“We’ve got a tough fortnight in Switzerland to come. Visually it is a beautiful place, but it won’t be for us.”
Next up on the ‘beasting’ front for the players in their pre-season fitness regime will be a return trip to the Swiss camp that they used in 2015. That comes up next week and there is a mixture of fear and trepidation among even the most senior of players.
North adds: “Our preparation will never change. In ’11 and ’15 our games were based on hard work, so the boys know the system and the process to get there.
“So, the boys all buy into that, knowing what good work comes from that. We got the results we wanted in 2011, apart from the semi-final, and in 2015 we were really unlucky with injuries.
“We’ve seen that system work and we just have to keep trusting it because if you survive to the end you’re probably going to be in the best shape you’ve ever been.”
Warren Gatland’s side have risen to second place in the world on the back of a record 14 game unbeaten run and a third Grand Slam of the Kiwi coach’s 11-year tenure. His reign will end after the World Cup everyone is hoping for a big finish.
North made his World Cup debut as a teenager in 2011 when Wales reached the semi-finals and ended up fourth overall. In 2015 it was the South Africans that brought an injury ravaged Welsh challenge to an end in a tight quarter-final.
But having beaten South Africa, Argentina, France, Italy and Scotland twice, as well as Australia, Tonga, England and Ireland once each, over the past 17 months there is a feeling that anything is now possible for Gatland’s final Welsh squad.
“We probably put a 60-minute performance in against England and probably the same against Ireland really in the Six Nations. For us, there are probably another two or three levels left in there,” says North.
“The benefit of the World Cup is that it always brings out the best in everyone. We certainly all know what’s at stake and it’s just about getting that full 80-minute performance consistently.
Did you see our new kit released yesterday?
— Welsh Rugby Union (@WelshRugbyUnion) July 7, 2019
“If you look at what we did in the autumn and in the Six Nations we slogged out games when we shouldn’t have. In the past we’d been guilty of not being able to close out games that were there for the taking.
“But we’ve taken a big step forward in our development as a team in being able to go toe to toe and go the extra mile in those last 10 or 15 minutes.
“We haven’t faded away, we’ve been able to push on and get results when historically we’d flaked away and lost at the end.
“We’re the best position we’ve ever been for a World Cup. Historically, we’ve always been the underdogs going in, but this squad has been in a great place for the last two years.
“It’s quite a settled number, everyone knows who they are and what they’re doing. The most brutal thing now is cutting down from 40-odd to 31 and being ready to go.”
The excitement that is building ahead of the four warm-up matches, two each against England and Ireland, rose once again at the weekend when the new kits for Japan were formally announced.
Now all the players have to do is survive the hard work in training, the competition for places within the squad and stay injury free to earn their ticket onto the plane.