George North is back after more than a year of knee injury hell

After a year of knee injury hell, George North is back and ready to help Wales shock South Africa this summer as the giant wing opens up on his recovery, the pain of watching as a fan and why Wayne Pivac’s side can upset the Springboks

  • Last April, George North suffered a serious knee injury in action for the Ospreys
  • It meant he missed the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa last summer
  • But now he’s back and in the Wales squad that will face the Springboks this year
  • North opens up on his recovery, watching from home and his hopes for the tour 

After more than 12 months of knee injury misery and the heartbreak of missing what would have been his third British & Irish Lions tour, George North is back. Could this be North 2.0? That is the aim.

It is early days in the giant wing’s return from an anterior cruciate knee ligament injury, but North hopes he can come back better than ever. What a prospect. 

North is still just 30 years old, but he has already achieved far more than most do in their entire careers. He has 102 Welsh caps and three for the Lions. He has played at three World Cups and won two Six Nations Grand Slams and two Championship titles. Pretty impressive.

After more than a year of knee injury hell, Wales star George North is back and playing well

North suffered a serious knee injury which meant he missed the Lions tour of South Africa

Age: 30

Wales caps: 102

British & Irish Lions caps: 3

Wales tries: 43

Six Nations Grand Slams: 2

Six Nations titles: 2

Rugby World Cups: 3

‘The time off should allow me to heal physically,’ said North, who was this week named in Wayne Pivac’s Wales squad for the first time in more than a year. 

‘Certainly my body – before getting smashed around again in games – was feeling great. Now it’s about trying to find that consistency.’ 

North had already begun something of a career change last year when after a long and hugely successful stint on the wing, he was moved to outside centre with Wales by head coach Pivac. 

He helped Wales to win the 2021 Six Nations and excelled in midfield as his team came within an inch of a Grand Slam. Everything looked rosy. And then disaster struck. 

Last April, North suffered a serious knee injury in action for the Ospreys against Cardiff. He was soon ruled out of the Lions tour of South Africa. A long road to recovery began.

‘It was just over 12 months with my knee. I had a fair few setbacks,’ North said, speaking about his recovery for the first time. ‘In the first two months I quite enjoyed being injured because it was the first time I’d stopped in a while. After eight or nine weeks I was ready to go again even though my knee wasn’t.

‘It was a long road. I’ve never really had a long-term injury like that. There were some grumpy days, but I always try to have that positive mindset that it’s not going to get better by being grumpy. 

North was moved to outside centre with Wales by head coach Wayne Pivac and was thriving

He helped Wales win the 2021 Six Nations and excelled as they almost secured the Grand Slam

‘You may as well be as positive and happy as you can. I found it difficult mentally from the start because I felt I’d got myself into a good position. I was playing well. 

‘I’d gone from the wing to 13 off the back of the Six Nations with the fuel of the Lions tour that was driving me. That was taken away and I found it really tough. 

‘I don’t think people understand the pressure pot you are in. Every day you are in the pressure pot to deliver and to perform. When you can’t and it gets taken away from you, there is nothing else you can do but give yourself a break.’

North – now a father of two – rebuilt his knee alongside fellow injured Ospreys team-mates Dan Lydiate and Dewi Lake. All three will tour South Africa with Wales this summer. Ospreys support staff Matt Bowen and Liam Thomas were key influences with the help of North’s wife Becky and their two sons Jac and Tomi also invaluable.

While on the sidelines, North has watched Wales struggle. They finished fifth in this year’s Six Nations and lost at home to Italy for the first time. ‘It’s a weird one,’ North said of his time as a spectator.

North and wife Becky James were recently awarded honorary degrees by Swansea University

A bonus-point victory for North’s Ospreys against the Bulls will seal a Champions Cup place

‘I find it tough because I’d hope that I’d have the ability to help. I probably find it harder being a supporter at the stadium than I do watching it at home.’

North will play his third game since recovering from injury on Friday night when the Ospreys take on South African side Bulls. A bonus-point victory would seal a place in next season’s Champions Cup. 

After that, North’s next step will be a daunting tour of South Africa. Wales will face the Springboks in three Tests in July as huge underdogs. Asked if Pivac’s men can spring a shock in the southern hemisphere, North said: ‘I think so. 

‘Considering the backlash of Italy which has been well documented it’s a tough place to be but Wales notoriously always do well as the underdogs.

‘If you look at recent history like the World Cups and Six Nations when we’ve been knocked down, we always seem to step up.

‘What an opportunity to have three Tests out in South Africa which will be huge. I’m chuffed to be selected. Obviously, I realise I have a lot of work to do to get back up to speed.’

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