Don’t Get All Weird, George North Tells Wales Teammates As End Of An Era Beckons

CARDIFF, WALES - MARCH 10: Wales George North during the pre match warm up during the Guinness Six Nations 2024 match between Wales and France at Principality Stadium on March 10, 2024 in Cardiff, Wales.(Photo by Ian Cook - CameraSport via Getty Images)

Don’t Get All Weird, George North Tells Wales Teammates As End Of An Era Beckons

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By Graham Thomas

George North intends to go out the way he came in – with the focus on what he brings to the match, rather than his own status.

Way back in 2010, as a raw 18-year-old, two tries on his international debut almost inspired Wales to an unlikely victory over then world champions South Africa in Cardiff, in match eventually lost 29-25.

Fourteen year on, North intends the team, the match and the result to be the factors at the forefront of his teammates’ minds when they face Italy on Saturday.

“I don’t want it to be any different to normal,” said North.

“I said that when I spoke to the squad, I said let’s not get weird.

“I asked them for nothing to change from what we always do. We go toe-to-toe and work as hard as we can to get better each day.”

An emotional North is set to bring down the curtain on one of the greatest Welsh rugby careers of the professional era when the makes his 121st and final appearance for his country the must-win Six Nations clash with Italy.

From a teenage boy of 18 to a man capable of playing at wing or centre, the 31-year-old has been a star in Welsh teams that won two Grand Slams (2012, 2019), picked up two more Six Nations titles (2013, 2021), reached two World Cup semi-finals (2011, 2019) at his four global tournaments.

He will leave having overtaken Shane Williams as the highest Welsh scorer in the Six Nations with 23 tries and needs only three more on Saturday to match Brian O’Driscoll’s tournament high of 26.

He went on two tours with the British & Irish Lions, scoring in the first Test victory in Brisbane, when he literally took opposite number Israel Folau for a ride on his back, and then in the decisive third Test in Sydney as the Lions won their first series since 1997.

He was also part of the squad for the 2017 tour to New Zealand, in which the series was drawn.

“It’s not been an easy decision for me, although it feels like the right time and it’s the best thing for me and my family.

“I’ve been very fortunate to live a dream not many people get to do. And to be able to do it at home in front of a sold-out stadium with my family around me seems like the best way for me to start my next chapter.

“It’s a decision I didn’t take lightly because of what it means to me to put on the jersey, and what it has done for so long. I didn’t think this day would come – I wished this day would never come.

“It was a real head and heart conversation that bounced back and forward a number of times. But for me it’s 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’m going to use this week and Saturday to really take it all in and to live my dream again one more time.

“It has always been about me being the best I can be for Wales wearing the three feathers on my chest. I would hate to put on the jersey and not do it justice and give it what it deserves.

“I’m still doing that now and it has been a hell of a run to get here. While there is pride in putting the jersey on, hopefully there is pride in leaving it in a better place for the next guy to have a go.

“I’ve loved every second of it and cherished every second of it – the highs and the lows. And there have been plenty of them.

“The people I’ve met, the friendships I’ve made, the coaches and team-mates I’ve met. I couldn’t have written it better myself to be honest.”

But while he would love a fairytale ending to his career with a win to avoid a first Wales whitewash in the Six Nations since 2003, he doesn’t want the game to turn into a homage to him.

When Italy last came to Cardiff in 2022, they upset the party for Dan Biggar’s 100th and Alun Wyn Jones’ 150th caps.

“It’s a must-win game on Saturday and the focus should never be on one individual. We’ve got to keep doing what’s worked well for us and we’ve got to deliver the 80-minute performance we know we’re capable of.

“Obviously, this is news now but hopefully this afternoon we will be back on track with the rugby, and the focus turns to a very positive, and very excited Italy, who will want to come to Cardiff to put on a show like they did a couple of years ago.”

Having announced his arrival on the international stage with two tries on debut, he has gone on to score 47 times for Wales and twice for the Lions. Try number 50 in a win over Italy would surely be the perfect send-off.

Next season he will be plying his trade in France, so how would he like to be remembered at home?

“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.
“Half decent would be nice.”

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