George North: Warren Gatland hopes wing is available for Six Nations

George North
George North's 2017 tour of New Zealand with the British and Irish Lions was cut short by injury

Wales coach Warren Gatland hopes to have a fit George North available ahead of the Six Nations opener against Scotland on 3 February.

Gatland named North in his Six Nations squad despite the wing being recently sidelined by a knee injury.

North has recovered and could play for Northampton in the Champions Cup match against Saracens on 20 January.

"He's a confidence player and ideally we're looking for him to get games under his belt," said Gatland.

The Wales coach delivered an upbeat assessment on North's recovery after naming him in a 39-man squad that includes uncapped Worcester wing Josh Adams and Scarlets flanker James Davies.

North missed the autumn internationals with a knee problem and suffered an injury recurrence on his return against Harlequins on 30 December.

"George is a player that needs to play some rugby to get confidence, especially with his knee," said Gatland.

"Hopefully, we can get some rugby into him.

"The debate is whether rugby is the more important thing, or is it being with us for two weeks of preparation?"

Gatland also says he has considered using North at outside-centre in the absence of the injured Jonathan Davies.

"We've had that discussion whether he provides an option at 13," said Gatland.

"He is still a young man and you can move him.

"If I was a club coach, I would play him in quite a lot of games in the centre, he could cause a lot of damage.

"We've seen players who have started on the wing and moved into midfield successfully.

"Tana Umaga and Ma'a Nonu played rugby early in their careers on the wing and became great centres. George is capable of that."

'No preference' on North's next move

Gatland says he plans to meet North this week to discuss which Welsh region the British and Irish Lions wing will join next season after he has already signed a national dual contract.

Cardiff Blues have ruled themselves out of the race, the Dragons have met with North, while Scarlets coach Wayne Pivac said this week his region would be interested in re-signing a player who left Llanelli in 2013.

"There's no preference for me and I will leave that decision to them," said Gatland.

"His region of origin is the Scarlets and he's left there a few years ago.

"If I was a regional coach I'd be interested in a player like George being available.

"So we'll wait and see over the next few weeks what decision he makes on where to play."

Rhys Webb
Rhys Webb has won 31 caps for Wales

Webb could have been left out of squad

Scrum-half Rhys Webb is another squad inclusion, but it could be his final Wales campaign for some time. Webb joins Toulon next season and will therefore be ineligible for Wales as he will be playing outside the country and has not reached the specific qualifying criteria of 60 caps.

Gatland admits he talked with his coaching staff about leaving Webb out of this Six Nations squad, but ultimately decided against it.

"We had that conversation (about leaving him out), we just felt that given the quality of player he is, when he is playing well he can make a big difference," said Gatland.

"We want to do well in this tournament."

Gatland has not given up all hope of having Webb available for the 2019 World Cup and hinted an injury crisis could lead to a re-examination of the criteria rule.

"You don't know the circumstances and how things work out for him out there (Toulon), how he settles, injuries and things," Gatland said.

"There are policies in place, and new agreements can always be made with the regions.

"I would like to see common sense prevail.

"If he wasn't available for the (2019) World Cup, but we did pick up a couple of key scrum-half injuries, then maybe people could make an exception. That is just speculation at the moment."

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Wales coach Gatland keeps door ajar for duo

Wales 'thrive' when tagged as underdogs

Gatland says he is "pretty happy," with a Six Nations schedule that includes an early clash against title holders England at Twickenham.

Wales launch the tournament by hosting in-form Scotland on 3 February, then it is England seven days later, followed by another fiercely difficult game against Ireland in Dublin.

"I am pretty happy with the draw," said Gatland.

"Scotland first up is a good challenge for us. If you can win those first two games, you have a chance of winning the championship.

"It is always a good position for us to be in where people tend to write you off.

"Our players have always thrived on being underdogs.

"People put the boot into them and they respond. It is a good position for us to be in."

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