George North: Wales wing scores and plays full game in Saints win

George North tries to break free against Harlequins
George North tries to break free against Harlequins

George North made a try-scoring return for Northampton in the 36-10 Anglo Welsh Cup victory over Harlequins as the Wales wing played the full match.

North crossed in the sixth minute in his first Saints start since suffering a knee injury in October 2017.

The 25-year-old has made two replacements appearances since, but pulled out against Sale last Saturday with a tight hamstring.

North was not picked for Wales' Six Nations opener against Scotland.

That Celtic encounter takes place in Cardiff on 3 February and North's display could prompt a recall for Wales' trip to face England at Twickenham seven days later.

The two-times British and Irish Lions tourist returned to the Saints with Northampton interim boss Alan Gaffney saying Wales boss Warren Gatland would not dictate how much game time the club gave the wing.

Gaffney said North would be available for 80 minutes and the wing duly played the whole game.

Industrious display

North demonstrated his form and fitness with an industrious display to push his credentials for a place against England.

Northampton qualified for the semi-final with North's fellow wing Ken Pisi crossing for two tries with Tom Stephenson and Ahsee Tuala scoring the others.

Beforehand Gaffney told BBC Radio Northampton: "Warren may say 'play him for 50', but if George is selected in the team, George will be available for the 80 as far as I'm concerned."

"That's what you've got to do, we can't just play him for 50 because Warren wants that to happen."

Afterwards, Northampton interim head coach Alan Dickens praised North's performance and was relieved the wing came through unscathed.

"I am sure he (Warren Gatland) will be pleased as we are," said Dickens.

"You could see he had a point to prove. We always say to play well for us puts you in the shop window internationally and gives him the best chance to get back in the Welsh side."

'It's about player 'welfare'

Wales attack coach Rob Howley had replied it was "not a concern" if North played entire games for Saints and acknowledged it was a "decision for Gaffney".

He said: "For club coaches and international coaches, it's about player welfare. When you pick players for international rugby you are mindful that for a player's self-belief and confidence you need game time under your belt.

"Warren has said that in terms of a player welfare perspective we'd like George to have some game time and Northampton would probably want George to have game time before stepping up to the level which he may be exposed to at international level.

"It's about having a common sense approach and making sure players have that game time before playing international rugby."

Rob Howley and George North
Rob Howley (left) has been Wales attack coach throughout North's international career

Chances for young players

In North's absence for Wales, Worcester winger Josh Adams is set to make his international debut in their Six Nations opener against Scotland on Saturday.

And with North leaving Franklin's Gardens at the end of the season, Gaffney is giving the next generation of players a chance to show what they can do in first-team matches.

Tom Collins came in last week as they won 24-20 at Sale Sharks in the Anglo-Welsh Cup after North was removed from the side as a precaution.

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