“Downtime? What downtime”With the Rugby World Cup on home soil just around the corner, Welsh international George North talks about his team’s chances
The best rugby teams and greatest players from around the world will be on show from September 18 until November 1 at this year’s Rugby World Cup. Welsh winger George North will be hoping that his side put on a good show in a difficult group with Australia and England. The formidable powerhouse talked to The Red Bulletin about his team’s chances, the pressure of playing on home turf, and being one of the most experienced players in the team at just 23.
THE RED BULLETIN: How would you say you’ve changed since the last Rugby World Cup in 2011?
GEORGE NORTH: I don’t know if I can say it but I’m a bit more mature – when I was in the last World Cup I was new to the whole experience of international rugby and what it requires of the player. Now I’m a lot more confident and more aware of what’s going on and how it works!
There’s a tremendous amount of pressure on players in the lead up to this World Cup, especially with it being on home turf. How do you cope with that?
I made a conscious decision from early on in my career that I would never read any hype about myself, because then you start believing what you’re reading and it can affect your mind-set. At the end of the day people only see the Saturday performance and what comes about from it – they don’t see the training and grafting that goes in from Monday to Friday. A lot of what annoys me as a player comes from misconstrued quotes and things like that. There is a huge pressure on us, especially from the media, but all I want to do is play rugby and enjoy the sport, so I try and keep my head down and try not to take too much of it in.
You’ve had nearly two months of training camps to prepare for the World Cup – how important is that for the team as a whole?
Spending that time together in that environment before the tournament is a massive bonus for us. As a team we’re quite close anyway because it’s been the same sort of squad for the last two or three seasons, but during these camps you really bond over the hard work. You’re there together grafting and seeing the man next to you doing as much work as you are, and you think, “If we can get through this together it’¬¬ll make us stronger.” Knowing we’ve got a common goal brings us a lot closer, too.
Your training camps this year saw you visiting new locations like the Swiss Alps and high-tech training facilities in Qatar. How important is it to switch things up?
It’s hugely important – when a lot of people start training, whether casually or for sport, they get stuck in a rut and they keep doing the same thing over and over again. Obviously then boredom kicks in and it just gets tedious. Pre-season training is unbelievably tough – especially in the run up to a World Cup – and an evil that, as a player, you’ve just got to get through. We were doing five sessions a day, sometimes more, and every session is a big session. It’s hard work. If you can make it as interesting as possible or change the scenery now and again it makes it a little bit easier because you’re not going back to the same old grind. That’s the key.
There are a few new names in the squad this time out. You’re now one of the more experienced players even though you’re only 23 – have you passed on any advice?
It’s difficult sometimes because it’s hard to hear things from someone your own age, but I always try and offer a hand. I’m a big believer in if you’re working well together as a team you’re only going to benefit as a team and it drags my standards up as well. I always offer advice and a lot of the boys take it up, but the younger boys coming in are playing such a high standard of rugby anyway and are very self-driven. We’re all trying to prove ourselves – it just happens I have a few more caps than they do.
You’re in a tough World Cup pool group with both England and Australia. How are you feeling about the team’s chances in the tournament?
During the last World Cup I think we were relatively unknown – we battled through the group stages and no one really batted an eyelid but when we got to the semi-finals, that’s when people started to notice. From our point of view we never really changed our mind-set – it was always a case of turning up on Monday, working hard all week and preparing for the next game. I don’t think it’ll be any different for this campaign. Obviously there’ll be a bit more hype with it being close to home so to speak, but it’s just a case of taking every game as it comes. As you said, it’s such a tough group that if you start thinking about what happens after the pool stages you’ll lose your focus on the games here and now.
With a tournament this intense, how important is your downtime?
What downtime?! A lot of it is about recovery and I’m a big believer in switching off – if you can’t you won’t be able to switch back on again. For me it’s massive to have that mental break after a match or once training’s finished because it’s so high-tempo, high-paced, high-pressure… If you don’t get that chance to get away from it, it can get on top of you.
What’s been your biggest personal challenge in your career so far?
I guess for a while after I started playing professionally I was always the youngest in the squad, so I’ve had to work hard to break out of that stereotype – I’m there to do a job regardless of age. Basically I’ve always had a massive contest to better myself every day and that’s the main thing for me – I like to wake up every day and feel like I’ve challenged myself.