Wales boss Wayne Pivac says that George North has “got the bit between his teeth” heading into Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations showdown against France.
The Ospreys wing has enjoyed a stellar Wales career, scoring 40 tries in 93 Tests, with only Shane Williams touching down more times for his country.
Despite that pedigree, though, North came in for criticism from some pundits following an ineffective display when Wales lost to Ireland in Dublin 12 days ago.
“George has been one of the best,” Pivac said. “If I have to pick (Wales’) top five trainers, he is right up there.
“He is working really hard, communicating well and is a senior guy in the group. We are encouraging that.
“I expect a big game from George on the weekend. I know he’s very keen to get out there and play well.
“Certainly, with any of the squad, their performances aren’t through lack of hard work, want and desire. He is certainly showing that, and if he wasn’t, he wouldn’t be selected.
Great start to the campaign. Bits to tidy up but wicked to be back out there! 🏴v🇮🇹 pic.twitter.com/N1ssZzUqev— George North (@George_North) February 1, 2020
“George has trained very well this week. He has got the bit between his teeth.
“There are a few people out there who have given him a bit of criticism, but he has played 90-odd Tests and he has 40 tries.
“He is a handful when on it. It’s our job to get him involved in the game, and we are looking to do that as much as we can.”
France and Ireland are the only two countries still with Grand Slam chances this season.
And although Les Bleus have not won a Six Nations game in Cardiff since 2010, they will arrive with former Wales defence expert Shaun Edwards in their coaching ranks.
Pivac added: “You’ve got a coach in there who knows this ground (Principality Stadium) inside out. He’s had a lot of success there.
“No doubt he will be getting into them and trying to build their confidence. They are a good side, and we’ve seen that.
“The last few years have indicated there is nothing between both teams.
🏴🇫🇷 La composition pour le Pays de Galles 🔥🔥— France Rugby (@FranceRugby) February 20, 2020
Voici les 23 joueurs sÃ©lectionnÃ©s pour le match contre les Gallois Ã Cardiff, samedi Ã 17h45 !
𝐀𝐥𝐥𝐞𝐳 𝐥𝐞𝐬 𝐁𝐥𝐞𝐮𝐬 !#NeFaisonsXV #XVdeFrance #PDGFRA pic.twitter.com/sZSuyRqulf
“They’ve got some world-class players in their team. To win championships you’ve got to have world-class players, and they’ve got a few of those, so they are going to be very dangerous.”
Pivac’s starting line-up on Saturday has a total of 859 caps – a new Six Nations record – and he said: “I think in tight games, in pressure moments, you can’t beat the experience.
“We’ve got some players there who have been in these tight games in the last few years and have come out on the right side of the ledger.
“We know what it takes, and hopefully it won’t come down to one play at the end of the game, but with these games and the way that they’ve gone over the last few years, who knows?
“We are very happy to have that experience in the team.”