George North excited by potential of Lions squad

Sport360 staff 17:57 30/05/2017
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George North.

George North feels “the potential is pretty exciting” of a British and Irish Lions squad arriving for its six-week mission in New Zealand.

North and company were due to land in Auckland early on Wednesday, with the opening game of a demanding 10-match tour arriving just three days later.

The Lions’ only previous Test series triumph against New Zealand came 46 years ago, while their fixture schedule includes appointments with five Super Rugby sides, plus the Maori All Blacks.

It all reaches a climax with three Tests against the world champions, and Wales wing North, who starred for the triumphant Lions in Australia four years ago, is likely to be a key figure.

“I think the squad Gats (Lions head coach Warren Gatland ) has picked has got a mixture of that wide rugby with great skill-sets and speed, and there is also power and some serious force up front,” North told Press Association Sport.

“From a back’s point of view, that is all you can ask for – front-foot ball, and quick, as and when it comes, to go wide, wide.

“The potential is pretty exciting.”

North’s club Northampton were involved in two end-of-season European Champions Cup qualification play-offs earlier this month, which meant he was unavailable for both pre-tour Lions training camps in Wales and Ireland.

“It was strange,” he added. “You want to be present in all the camps to get yourself in the best position to learn your role as early as you can and understand the way that Gats wants to play.

“In 2013, I was there the whole time, and to have only been there for ‘messy Monday’ (Lions player administration day on May 8 ) and the day I fly, is completely different.

“A lot of hard work goes into it – your conditioning, weights, team sessions – and also bonding time as well, getting to know each other better before facing what is a massive task.”

North has been on the losing side three times against New Zealand during his 69-cap Wales career, while the Lions’ last experience at All Blacks’ hands was a sobering one, losing all three Tests 12 years ago and conceding 107 points.

“They are world champions and play an amazing brand of rugby,” said North, who is a Gillette ambassador for the Lions’ New Zealand tour.

“I think a lot of it is just the confidence they have in each other and the team to know they can go points behind, they can be under the cosh for a while, but they can turn games around and still win.

“The skill-set they have from numbers one to 23 – they’ve got props throwing 20-metre passes off left or right hand – their game understanding and game awareness is great.

“And if you look at the fact how well the New Zealand Super Rugby sides are playing, it shows exactly where they are and the quality of players they’ve got.”

North is among a group of players who were involved during the 2013 Lions trip to Australia – he scored tries in two of the three Tests – and he believes that experience will help this time around.

“I think from a player’s point of view, we learnt a lot from 2013, not just from what we achieved as a squad, and we can use that as a springboard to push on again,” he added.

“The whole tour was a great experience, and one that will always stay with me. It is a tremendous honour to be selected for the Lions.

“I had never experienced it before, but special is the word to describe it. Players from four nations coming together is brilliant.”

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