George North says he was surprised by his Wales call-up after playing just two hours of rugby following a 12-month injury lay-off.
The 30-year-old centre or wing suffered knee ligament damage in April 2021, ending hopes of making a third successive British and Lions tour in South Africa last summer.
North finally returned to action last month and, despite making just one start for the Ospreys and another appearance off the bench, has been named in Wayne Pivac’s Wales squad for this summer’s three-Test series in South Africa.
Asked if he had expected to take on the world champions, North said: “No, to be honest.
“My main focus off the back of my injury was just to get back playing for the Ospreys and trying to find a groove.
“I’ve been involved in limited games, but I’m feeling better each time.
“It’s amazing and I’m chuffed to be selected, though obviously I realise I have a lot of work to do to get back up to speed.”
North, Wales’ fourth-most capped player on 102 appearances and his country’s second-highest try scorer with 43, made his international debut in 2010 and is well used to Test rugby’s crunching collisions.
He believes his enforced lay-off has allowed his body to heal and that he will return to action a better player.
“There have been some tough times, especially when the return date was taken away for my own safety and my own benefit,” North said.
“I’ve never really had a long term injury like that. To push hard every day is a big ask when you go six, seven, eight, nine, 10 or 11 months and eventually get back playing at 12.
“There were some grumpy days, for sure, but I always try to have that positive mindset and I had that mental break.
“I don’t think people understand the pressure pot that you are on. You’re not just nine to five, Monday to Friday, and play Saturday.
“It’s 12 months, every day you are in the pressure pot to deliver and to perform. When you can’t and it gets taken away from you, there’s nothing else you can do but give yourself a break.
“Physically, it allowed the rest of my body to really heal and to cross out any little niggles I’d been carrying.
All I wanted to do was get back playing rugby, and to have the honour of putting the Welsh jersey on again would be huge.George North
“Now it’s about trying to find that consistency again for me and putting my hand up as much as I can.”
North admits missing out on a third Lions tour came as a huge blow after he had helped Wales to Six Nations title success in 2021.
He said: “I felt I’d got myself into a good position. I was playing well, I’d gone from the wing to 13 off the back of the Six Nations with the fuel of the Lions tour that was driving me.
“That was taken away and I found it really tough. All I wanted to do was get back playing rugby, and to have the honour of putting the Welsh jersey on again would be huge.
“What an opportunity now, and what a test, to have three Tests out in South Africa.”