EXCLUSIVE: George North warns England he's fit to resume his… teenage rampage!
It is difficult to miss George North – unless you are trying to tackle him. He is neither the heaviest nor the tallest player in a Welsh back line of monsters, but he is shaped like a square.
The numbers are impressive – 6ft 4in, 17st 6lb, 19 years old, 18 caps, 10 tries – but what makes this schoolboy from Llandovery so dangerous on a rugby field is not the stuff of statistics.
North has a rare combination of gifts: explosive pace – he is one of the fastest in the squad over 40 metres; strength – fly-half Rhys Priestland still talks about the first time he saw North on the chest press; agility – for a man of his considerable size and bulk he floats on his feet; and skill – that 'cat flap' offload against Ireland is not something he was taught on the fields of Carmarthenshire.
Ready to rumble: George North is focused on Saturday's clash at Twickenham and winning the Triple Crown
The 'cat flap' was the back-handed flick he pulled off with three Irish shirts on his back in Wales' opening game of the Six Nations. The audacious offload came only seconds after he had burst off his wing and bulldozed Fergus McFadden without even using a hand-off.
In that one move, North showed everything England's wingers have to fear on Saturday, that he is capable of threading a needle while causing an earthquake.
He burst on to the international scene aged 18 and 214 days, and out in New Zealand established himself as one of the most thrilling wings in world rugby. He can run 40m in under five seconds after a day in the gym and bench press a small bungalow. But he also has an achilles heel, or ankle to be precise.
A sprain against Scotland at the Millennium Stadium two weeks ago put his appearance in the Triple Crown showdown at Twickenham in some doubt. He even had to sacrifice his mum's shepherd's pie.
Ouch: North limped off against Scotland but is fit to return against England at Twickenham
'Some of the boys compare it to death but I don't think it's that bad. It's constantly getting freezing cold air blowing at your body, from your neck down. It's a very strange feeling, difficult to describe, but you can see the results. I was doing it once if not twice a day last week just to keep up the recovery. You are in it for no more than three minutes maximum and within five minutes you feel fine again. It works.'
North is modest and charming, seemingly too mature to be a teenager, and his genuine love of rugby shines through any conversation. Limping off at half-time against Scotland left him in the unusual position of watching from the sidelines and it was particularly difficult to take.
'It's a hell of a downer. I don't want to sound big-headed but the second half was more my sort of game. It was more open, there were half-chances and half-breaks and they are the things I love.
'But I'm always very positive. I always say to myself that it could be worse and I've had very good support from my family and friends. They always comment about what is wrong. One of my mates is studying sports science in Cardiff and said, “You've done this and this”, and I was thinking, “No, that's completely wrong, maybe you should study your books harder!” '
In training: North at Vale Resort
The rehab room can be a lonely place but over the past two weeks North has had good company in captain and friend Sam Warburton, who was trying to recover from a dead leg.
'Before the World Cup I didn't really speak to Sam much,' North says. 'I'd only just started and he was big into the scene. We never really crossed paths until the autumn but since then we've been really friendly. He's a lovely bloke who will look after you.
'We're rehab friends. The red room is the padded room where you can go in and stretch and use smaller dumb bells. We play urban music – Eminem and 50 Cent in the background while we're doing little arm movements.
'We don't have cliques in the squad but the younger boys and the older boys tend to spend time together – they'll have a cup of tea and we'll have a Coke.'
North has never played England in a Six Nations match before, but in the summer's World Cup warm-up he scored two tries on his debut at Twickenham. It was a very different occasion from his first trip to HQ as an 11-year-old taken to watch England play Italy by his dad.
'My sister lived in Twickenham so she got cheap tickets,' says North, who was born in King's Lynn but moved to his mother's home county of Anglesey at the age of two.
'I wasn't really into rugby then, but I went down with my old man. All I can remember is the atmosphere and the noise. The second time I've been there was visiting a mate. I drove past the stadium to get to his house and I was thinking, “Woah, it's huge”.
'The third time was playing there. It was an awesome first experience. Everything before the game is a bit of a blur. I just make sure I have my boots in the bag. In the grand scheme of things nothing else matters.'
North refuses to over-analyse his opponents for fear of over-thinking his next move. With all the bulk in this monstrous back line their natural ability is often forgotten, but the Wales way has always been to trust in your instincts.
'Chris Ashton wears 14 but he and David Strettle swap a lot,' North says. 'I don't like to do too much analysis because when it comes down to it and you're one-on-one you start thinking, “Is he going to this, or this, or this” Then he does something else and you've got caught in the middle of nowhere with your pants down.
Captain marvel: Sam Warburton (centre) is back in training after missing the Scotland match
'You look at their key points and how they tend to play but at the end of the day it's every man for himself when the whistle goes. We've all had a look at their team and what they've done and we're just looking forward to the weekend.'
Hard to believe North was once a tall, gangly kid who grew upwards far faster than he grew wide. He remembers all too well facing an already developed Manu Tuilagi in an Anglo-Welsh Under 16 clash.
George North is supporting RBS RugbyForce, the community rugby programme that is improving club facilities across the nation.
To register your club for the RBS RugbyForce Weekend on June 2 and 3, visit: www.rbs.com/rugbyforce
'I played England three times at age group level, once at 16s and twice at 18s. I remember the first one because Manu was playing. He was the same size as he is now – he was massive – and I was only a weed of a man. He seemed so much bigger. They were good encounters, close games. You do ache after an England match. It's nation against nation. It's a big rivalry. It's not like we're best friends, is it'
The cliche goes that Wales relish the tag of the underdog but suddenly this young team find themselves crossing the Severn Bridge as favourites.
'If you look back, it's a very rare thing for any team to head to Twickenham as favourites because it's such a hard place to go. We do like the mentality of underdogs, it works for us, but now we have to step up to the plate.
'If we have the tag of favourites, we have to use that to give us confidence in our own ability. We'll just go in with the mindset to let them do or say what they want and we'll just bring the noise when it comes.
'If you ask any Welshmen or Englishmen about this fixture they'll tell you it's a big one. You get so pumped up for it as a player that there's no need to call on the rivalry. I'll be bouncing from half six on the morning of a match. At the end of the day we are playing for a Triple Crown.
'This era of players needs to lay the foundations this year so when the going gets tough, we can think we've won a Triple Crown and work off that. We've proven ourselves in the World Cup and narrowly lost out. I think we deserve it.'
Stuart Peters, a friend of George North, is attempting to cross Chile's Atacama Desert in a single week. The 250km challenge begins on March 4 and lasts for seven days of running in 40C heat with all equipment, food, clothes and water. If that doesn't sound hard enough, it takes place at 10,000ft above sea level so Stuart and his friend, Fred, will be battling altitude sickness too.
They are running for BLESMA, a charity which does amazing work for troops who have lost limbs at war. To donate go to: www.justgiving.com/gozzaandpedroatacama