Wales hopeful that George North’s star will shine against Italy
The Northampton wing will make his first Wales start since the final game of last season’s Six Nations.
Rob Howley hopes that Wales will see the best of wing George North in Sunday’s NatWest 6 Nations clash against Italy.
North’s selection – his first Wales start since the final game of last season’s Six Nations – comes after he missed Northampton’s Aviva Premiership game against Sale Sharks last weekend.
In immediate post-match comments, interim Saints boss Alan Gaffney suggested the 25-year-old had not wanted to play for his club.
North had been released by Wales as it was a Six Nations fallow week, but he did not feature for Northampton amid reports he had an arrangement with former Saints rugby director Jim Mallinder that he would not play club rugby on rest weekends.
He is now set to face an Azzurri side who might have have preferred not to see him this weekend, given his scoring record against them.
North has racked up six tries in seven games against Italy, and it would be no surprise if that sequence continues on Sunday.
“He has been absolutely fine,” Wales assistant coach Howley said.
“If you look at his body language over the last couple of weeks against Ireland and England, he has done really well and deserves his start.
“Many would be surprised he started on the bench. For George to be on the bench, it shows how well Steff Evans have been doing.
“If you look over the last couple of years, George has tended to do well against Italy in terms of try-scoring chances, so hopefully we will see the best of him on the weekend.
“He has been brilliant in training as he has always.”
Former Italy scrum-half Paul Griffen has claimed that Wales boss Warren Gatland’s team selection to face the Azzurri – it shows 10 changes from the side beaten by Ireland a fortnight ago – could be seen in Italy as being disrespectful to Sergio Parisse’s line-up.
But Howley added: “If you look at the word disrespectful, Taulupe Faletau, George North and Justin Tipuric coming in as (British and Irish) Lions, there is a fair amount of experience coming into that team.
“We are at home, we back ourselves at home and look forward to getting back to the Principality Stadium.
“There are players who have been given an opportunity who deserve to be selected. We have spoken about the strength in depth which hopefully we have created at this moment.
“It is an opportunity to see if this can stack up on Sunday, and we believe it can. It is a huge opportunity, and there is a lot of excitement and enthusiasm.
“Sometimes you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t (in terms of selection).
“We were criticised last year for not giving that opportunity, and now when we have given that opportunity, we are being disrespectful, which we are not.”
Wales have beaten Italy 11 times in succession, including a 2015 World Cup warm-up game, with their last Six Nations loss to the Azzurri being in 2007.