George North. Pic: Craig Thomas/Replay Images.

George North Insists Ospreys’ Survival Scrap Has Toughened Them Up

George North believes the Ospreys’ resilience will be enough to see them overcome Cardiff Blues today and tip the Judgement Day verdict in their favour.

The Wales wing will return from injury for his first match since breaking a bone in his hand on the day the Six Nations Grand Slam was secured against Ireland six weeks ago.

North’s left hand is now fully recovered and operational – much like the region itself, believes the Lions star who considers the death-defying powers they have shown since the rejection of a merger with the Scarlets underlines why their mental strength will carry them through against the Blues.

“I think we’re in good shape,” says North. “We had two tough games out in South Africa and did well out there. To go and get 10 points from two games was pretty positive.

“But also the general atmosphere and vibe in the camp, after what’s been a tough few months, is brilliant. The boys have really fronted up.

“We have been training hard and we’re ready.

“If you look at what the outcome could be at the end of the season, then there’s something to smile about.”

After losing six games on the bounce while their international stars were away on international duty in January and February, the Ospreys have re-grouped.

Galvanised by a sense on injustice – perfectly pitched by their coach Allen Clarke when he first revealed their existence was under threat in a live TV interview – the Ospreys have won three matches in succession and all with bonus points.

Not only that, but since having their own house condemned for demolition, they have propped up the foundations and also found time to nip around to the neighbours and nick their best furniture in the form of Gareth Anscombe.

The friction caused by that move gives this game as much interest for the neutral as what is at stake – entry to the play-off game for Heineken Champions Cup qualification next season.

North missed the Ospreys’ recent visit to South Africa where they earned back-to-back bonus point victories over the Cheetahs and Southern Kings.

Instead, he and Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones – who also returns today for the first time since the Ireland game after overcoming a knee problem – were left to train and brood alone.

“It’s great to be back with the boys after they went away to South Africa. While they were gone, it was just me and Alun Wyn running around, lumping each other – which was fun.

“I’ve been training for the last few weeks, now, so it’s time to get out there again. My hand feels good and I’m positive at the moment.”

George North of Ospreys is tackled by Jonathan Davies of the Scarlets. Pic: Simon King/Replay Images.

Clarke has named a strong starting XV with try-scoring sensation Dan Evans and Hanno Dirksen accompanying North in the back three while Cory Allen and Owen Watkin line up in midfield. Aled Davies and Sam Davies are at half-back.

Up-front No 8 James King will make his 200th appearance for the Ospreys and is joined in the back-row by captain Justin Tipuric and Olly Cracknell. Beard partners Jones at lock while Nicky Smith, Scott Baldwin and Tom Botha for a strong front-row.

“Our goal for the season has been to achieve Champions Cup qualification, Saturday provides another opportunity to keep that goal alive,” said Clarke.

“Over the last number of months we’ve approached it one game at a time aiming to improve on a daily basis and delivering on the pitch. There’s a tremendous buzz in the camp coming off the back of three bonus point wins.

“Those performances have been forged on the back of a good balance between quality training and enjoyment. We’re under no illusions to the challenge and level of performance required against Cardiff on Saturday.

“It’s important we focus on our processes, do what we do well and the scoreboard will look after itself.”

The Blues have also been boosted by the return of injured personnel with hugely influential No 8 Nick Williams returning to captain the side.

With his return to fitness, George Earle drops to the bench and Seb Davies reverts to the second-row. The other changes come in the backs with Lloyd Williams given the nod at scrum-half and Jarrod Evans at fly-half. Gareth Anscombe, who joins the Ospreys next season, switches to full-back in what could be his final game for the Blues.

Elsewhere, Aled Summerhill is back to take his place on the wing in the place of Jason Harries. Tighthead prop, Dillon Lewis, retains the number three jersey as he is set to hit a half century of appearances for his home region.

“It is great to have Nick back to lead the team on Saturday,” said Blues head coach John Mulvihill.

“He is such an important player to our group, who leads by example, galvanises the team and gets us over the gain-line. I have no doubts over Gareth’s commitment.

“He is the consummate professional and is hugely competitive. He has had a great season here at Cardiff Blues and will want to go out on a high.

“It’s also great to see Dillon Lewis making his 50th appearance for the region. He’s had an outstanding season for both Cardiff Blues and Wales and is someone who I’ve got a lot of time for.

“It’s always fantastic to have another young, local boy hitting an important milestone in his career and it’s a real credit to the pathway and academy system throughout the region. We have had a great couple of weeks of preparation and the boys a highly motivated to claim a fifth derby win of the season, especially after losing at the Liberty Stadium in January.”

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