herald

Monday 18 December 2017

Gatland heaps pressure on George North

Wales star George North has been told that there is "a lot of pressure and expectation on him to perform" in Friday night's blockbusting Six Nations opener against England at the Millennium Stadium.

The powerhouse Northampton wing returns to international duty after missing Wales' victory over South Africa in November because of concussion.

But the 22-year-old, who has scored 19 tries in 45 Tests for Wales, will be under a fierce spotlight.

North replaces in-form Scarlets back Liam Williams, who has to be content with a place on the bench, while one other change following the 12-6 Springboks success sees Gloucester hooker Richard Hibbard returning instead of Scott Baldwin.

Hibbard was unavailable to face South Africa as that game fell outside the recognised autumn Test window and he had to return to his club.

"We had a good chat to George," Wales head coach Warren Gatland said. "We don't think he has played that well in the Welsh jersey in the last few games, so there is a lot of pressure and expectation on him to perform.

"But one of the things he has done for Wales is that he has scored tries, and he continues to do that for his club as well. He does have that X-factor. We are looking for a big performance from him on Friday.

"We are looking for him to get a lot of touches, get his hands on the ball and a high work-rate, and if he gets lots of touches and his work-rate is high, he will create something.

"We are giving him that opportunity to go out there, telling him that a couple of his performances haven't been as good as they can be, and just what the expectations are for him."

Wales: L Halfpenny (Toulon); A Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), J Davies (Clermont Auvergne), J Roberts (Racing Metro), G North (Northampton); D Biggar (Ospreys), R Webb (Ospreys); G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), R Hibbard (Gloucester), S Lee (Scarlets), J Ball (Scarlets), A-W Jones (Ospreys), D Lydiate (Ospreys), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues, capt), T Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons). Replacements: S Baldwin (Ospreys), P James (Bath), A Jarvis (Ospreys), L Charteris (Racing Metro), J Tipuric (Ospreys), M Phillips (Racing Metro), R Priestland (Scarlets), L Williams (Scarlets).

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