One hundred and counting! George North will become the youngest EVER player to reach a century of caps when Wales host rivals England… as he admits he’s taken a ‘few bullets to the chest’ but is ‘incredibly proud’ of the milestone
- George North will win his 100th Wales cap on Saturday in a landmark moment
- North will reach the century total when Wales host England in the Six Nations
- The 28-year-old has had many highs and lows ahead of the momentous occasion
Ahead of a marquee day in George North’s life on Saturday it seems unfortunate to start on a negative note.
But for all the accolades, achievements and acolytes the Welshman has collected over the years he is not only immensely satisfied to have made it to 100 caps, but to have stuck two fingers up to his critics too.
‘It’s been a nine-year goal,’ he says of his quest for a century in Welsh red, which will culminate against England in Cardiff on Saturday.
George North will reach a century of caps for Wales on Saturday when he faces England
North is immensely satisfied at what he is about to achieve after a career full of ups and downs
At 28, he will become the youngest-ever player to hit 100 caps for a single country
North made his Wales debut on November 13, 2010 – scoring two tries in a loss to South Africa
‘I’m almost there now. I’ve given so much towards it, but it’s taken a lot out of me to get here.
‘Ups and downs for sure, a few bullets taken to the chest, but it’s something I’m incredibly proud of.’
That last comment come with a smile, a nod and North’s typically disarming wit but has strong feelings behind it.
Sitting back now, ahead of the great day on Saturday where he becomes the youngest-ever player at 28 to hit 100 caps for a single country, he can reflect on the beginning and the middle while a long way from the end.
For he is no longer the teenager thrust into the glare of the spotlight, or the man caught in rugby’s shadowlands from his doldrum days.
North is back playing well, is settled, happy and able to take it all in.
‘I don’t think I really appreciated the hype or the attention. I was quite blase about it,’ North says about his early days speaking on behalf of Dove Men+Care.
‘I was so oblivious that everything I’d worked for, dreamt about was happening.
North was speaking exclusively to Sportsmail as an ambassador for Dove Men+Care
‘If you fast-forward 10-and-a-bit years I haven’t stopped and it’s been the same amount of attention and pressure.
‘It’s only now looking back that blase attitude of “I’m just playing rugby, enjoying it” and that way of looking at things was so sweet.
‘When you have to grow up quickly you have to learn about the pressures of international sport, the pressure pot we’re in every day, the scrutiny we get each game.’
He admits he struggled with that. Especially between 2013 and 2018 when at Northampton, in a perceived rut, between concussions and criticism.
‘It was certainly… I can’t say sh**, but it was a sh** time,’ he explains to Sportsmail.
North’s spell at Northampton was an injury-plagued one that also saw him endure criticism
‘I couldn’t do anything right.
‘My body had played a lot of rugby at that point and was churning out games. I wasn’t playing at 100 per cent – nowhere near it sometimes.
‘I got myself into a rut – the external pressures were too much, and I was reading too much into it.
‘If I wasn’t scoring nine tries a game, setting up three, making 1,000 metres, 12 tackles it was a poor game.
‘I was really tough on myself – overly tough – and got myself into a bit of a spot.
‘That was when I leant on my parents, Becky and my mates the most. Those who knew me, not just George North the rugby player, but me and knew how much I gave every day to be in that position.’
North admits he wasn’t at 100 per cent during that part of his career due to external pressures
He has learnt now to focus on what he is, not isn’t, doing.
‘If I don’t get the ball I can’t carry it, I can’t go knocking people out the way to get it because then I’ll get more abuse,’ he explains.
‘When you’re playing a game when it’s 40mph winds and it’s coming down sideways I’m not going to light the game, I’m going to be honest.
‘It’s learning a bit more about bigger-picture rugby. For me that’s allowed me to enjoy my rugby again.’
Becky, who won Olympic silver as a track cyclist, has been ‘priceless’ to North.
‘When you come home from a tough game and you go “do you know what I mean?” and she can say “yeah, I do”. That is quite nice,’ he says.
North is thankful that his wife Becky can relate to him – having won Olympic silver in cycling
‘She’s been incredible these past nine years. She understands when I say “I’m absolutely out on my feet here” in pre-season, or “there’s loads of pressure, I’m getting a lot of heat” she understands, holds my hand through it.’
Although their relationship has provided some awkward moments – like the time North went to watch his then girlfriend compete in the Rio Olympics, instructed by Jim Mallinder at Northampton to keep his head down in Brazil, only for him to be caught on the spot by Clare Balding live on the BBC who asked him when he was going to propose to Becky.
‘I’ve learnt since, once the red light is on it’s live isn’t it?’ he laughs five years on, now happily married.
‘The best bit was Becky’s mother and father were stood right in front of me! I thought: “oh brilliant!”
‘Absolutely stitched up. I’ve never been that sweaty that quickly, even being in Rio!’
The arrival of baby Jac last year has afforded North a new focus, beyond his rugby goals.
North pictured with his then-girlfriend and her family during the 2016 Rio Olympic Games
‘He’s already signed up on a 10-year deal – I can’t say who with yet, as that would be a scoop!’ North jokes.
‘He’s definitely put a whole different perspective on my life, rugby and everything. He’s the best thing in the world. Without the family support I wouldn’t be the sportsman or bloke I am today.’
So now he is quite happy to revel in the moment, more comfortable than ever being George North.
‘When someone says “you weren’t that good” I can go “hang on, mate!” he laughs again.
‘Hopefully I can enjoy this milestone knowing no bugger can take that away from me.
‘Winning 100 caps is something me, my family can smile about knowing all the sacrifices and hard work were worth it.’
North is comfortable in his own skin as he prepares for the landmark moment on Saturday
George North is a Dove Men+Care ambassador. For more rugby and fatherhood stories, follow @DoveMenUK Twitter or @DoveMenCare Instagram.
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