North targets World Cup spot
May 30, 2011
George North enjoyed a hugely successful breakthrough season with the Dragons and Wales © Getty Images
Wales wing wonder George North insists he is not taking a World Cup spot for granted despite a breakthrough season at regional and international level.
Few outside of the Scarlets had heard of the 6ft 4in, 16st 7lbs three-quarter before the start of the season, but that quickly changed as he showcased his finishing ability by running in four tries in his first six appearances.
Those performances quickly caught the attention of Wales coach Warren Gatland, who made no secret of his admiration of North's physical attributes, and the teenager was rewarded with a first cap in the autumn defeat to South Africa, becoming an overnight sensation by scoring two memorable tries.
Further appearances followed against Fiji and New Zealand but a frustrating shoulder injury stymied his progress, with the youngster only returning for the Six Nations finale against France in Paris, where he made a stunning 50-metre break in the 28-9 loss.
The 19-year-old is set to win his fifth cap when Wales' final World Cup preparations get under way in earnest against the Barbarians on Saturday, but knows he has to impress.
"I have had to pinch myself a few times this season," he said. "If someone had told me 12 months ago that I would be in a position to go to the World Cup I would have just laughed at them.
"Scoring two tries on my debut was unbelievable and it's an honour to be involved with the national side but I know that I have to keep working hard on my game. There is more to come from me and I have been doing a lot of work with (former Wales wing) Mark Jones at the Scarlets, looking at areas of my game that I can improve on in attack, in defence and under the high ball."
North admits he was disappointed to have his progress hindered by his injury, which required surgery, but believes his body is now up to the rigours of the Test game.
""It was a very frustrating time," he said. "When I got my chance I wanted to stay there, but it proved to be a big learning curve for me, and it was one that I needed. My body was not ready for that volume of rugby, but I feel I am now coping well with it."
This weekend's clash against the Baa-Baas, ostensibly to celebrate the Welsh Rugby Union's 130th anniversary, has plenty of critics due to its timing ahead of a summer when Wales will play three World Cup warm-up Tests, two against England and one against Argentina, in August.
But the make-up of Gatland's 26-man panel for the contest suggests the Kiwi is set to hand Gavin Henson a first cap since the 2009 RBS 6 Nations, a 100th cap to fly-half Stephen Jones and a chance for young talent such as Dragons No.8 Toby Faletau to shine.
And North believes victory at the Millennium Stadium, against a side boasting the likes of Italy captain Sergio Parisse, former All Blacks tighthead prop Carl Hayman and powerhouse France centre Mathieu Bastareaud, can act as a perfect springboard for what lies ahead.
"I expect it will be a very fast game but they will bring a lot of skill and physicality," said North. "It's a very important game. We need to carry confidence into our summer training camp and Tests so to pick up a win would be a good boost and we want to claim that win."
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