Gatland: Wales will ‘look after’ North if Northampton don’t
CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — Warren Gatland opened the door on a possible earlier-than-expected return to Wales for star wing George North.
North is heading back to a Welsh regional rugby team this summer when his contract with English Premiership club Northampton ends.
Northampton has five Premiership games left, but whether or not North plays a part in any is debatable.
Last weekend, he missed Northampton’s game against Sale, after which interim Northampton boss Alan Gaffney suggested the wing had not wanted to play.
North was released by Wales as it was a Six Nations off week, but he did not play for Northampton reportedly because he had an arrangement with former club director Jim Mallinder that he would not play for the club on rest weekends.
North was picked by Gatland on Wednesday to start for Wales against Italy in the Six Nations this weekend.
Gatland said North injured his hip flexor during the loss to Ireland 11 days ago, and was treated by Wales’ medical staff before returning to Northampton the next day.
“The message I have said to George is if he wants to come home quicker than next season, we will look after him,” Gatland said.
“We are here for him. He knows if he isn’t comfortable in that environment we will support him and the (Welsh Rugby Union) will support him 100 percent for whatever happens with him.
“I understand from Northampton’s perspective, they are under their own pressure in terms of trying to get things back on track. George has given a huge amount of commitment to them in the first place by leaving Wales to go up there. He has enjoyed his time there, I know. It’s a great club with fantastic facilities.”
Asked if Gaffney had unfairly singled out North, Gatland said: “Coaches do their own thing. I don’t have any problem with that. I can’t comment on the Northampton situation. I just know that George picked up a slight hip-flexor injury against Ireland when he came on.
“That was treated by our medical staff, and we communicated that to Northampton. He went back up there and was treated by their medical team. He is OK now, which is why he has been selected (against Italy).”