Big hitterGeorge North is used to taking big hits, and with Six Nations and the Rugby World Cup in 2015, he’s ready to hit back even harder
On the eve of the Six Nations Championship, we chat to Welsh winger George North about expectation, determination and how to take a beating. At 6’4” and 17 stone, he’s a formidable man to come up against on the rugby field. You’d never guess he’s scared of Buffy the Vampire Slayer…
How are you?
I’m pretty tired. The way the game is now, everyone’s getting bigger, faster, stronger and uglier so you’ve just got to adapt to it. There’s no way to come out of it unscathed no matter how well you prepare. You’ve just got to try to keep yourself in as good a shape as you can be ready to take the next week’s battering.
Can you ever get used to taking a battering?
You do get used to injuries. I got a head injury in the last world cup against Australia. I went off the pitch, got stitched and first tackle it reopened again. So I just filled it full of Vaseline and kept going. Your day job is basically being beaten up, taking the big hits. The odd one catches you out, but you adapt to being a bit sore, a bit hurt, a bit broken.
Isn’t it hard not to get angry?
It can get tedious getting hurt and beaten up. The odd bump really gets you, but it really inspires you to go harder, like ‘You’re such a d-ck!’. It gives you a push. I guess some days, when you’ve got some guy smashing your face in, you do question whether it’s the job for you, but rugby always wins. Being able to do what I love for a living every day is quite special.
How difficult is it to go back in with full force after time out with an injury?
You can’t help but hold back slightly. I had a shoulder operation in 2010, and I was 11 weeks and 3 days out with it (not that I was counting). In the first two weeks of training, I was doing anything but throwing my shoulder in. But at the end of the day you have to get fully back into it. You’ll hurt yourself more going in like a sloppy soup sandwich than if you went in proper.
How are you feeling about Six Nations?
Six Nations is massive for the home nations. You look at England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Italy, France, they’re all great teams and on the day anyone could beat anyone else. Especially now Italy are getting a lot better. It used to be a dull fixture a few years ago, whereas now you have to play your best team. As it should be, every game’s a massive game. It will be a good challenge this year, Wales should do well. Fingers crossed we can win. Until you see the squads you can’t completely call it. Actually, I can, I’m saying Wales to win. I’m excited. Putting on your Welsh jersey, which in Wales is quite sacred, is one of the best feelings you could ever have.
Then you’ve got a Rugby World Cup on home soil to come later this year. Is it on your mind?
You can’t not have it there in the back of your mind as it’s the bigger picture, that’s the goal you’re working towards, and what you want to achieve. It drives you to be faster and stronger and fitter, but you have to blank it out to a point. You have to be able to focus on the here and now, or you’ll forget to keep your eye on what you’re doing. There’s no doubt it will be huge though. If you look at how people got behind Olympic sports at London 2012, I think it will be something similar with a world cup at home. Having that strength of support can definitely inspire you during a tough game, a home crowd can spur you on when you have nothing left.
How did you find your position on the field?
My position is glory or everyone thinking you’re a d-ck. I didn’t aim to be out there, I got lost on the way I think. I was a back row growing up, then I fractured my collarbone and when I cam back, I found I was quicker than everyone else. I basically kept on falling out to the end and I haven’t really moved since. I enjoy it, it’s tough, but it’s my job. I don’t think I could be a forward, putting my head in the wrong places. I’m happier to be there than the scrum.
You were born in England. Are your loyalties ever torn?
I was born in Kings Lynn, but Papa North was in the RAF and got posted away round the world when I was 15 weeks old. I went to Singapore, Hong Kong, Katmandu, and ended up in Anglesey when I was three. Growing up in Wales is all I remember. It’s always been about the red of Wales. My dad jokes about it with me, but Wales has adopted him now. He has a Welsh jersey - until his English mates are around and then he’s like ‘oh no, England all the way’. He’s half and half.
Every day you eat the calorific equivalent of nine Big Macs, around 4,300. Is that a treat or a chore?
It would be a treat if I could eat nine Big Macs, but it’s not that simple! It’s a pain if I’m honest. You have to get the calories in each day as you’re training so hard. If you don’t you just turn into a flannel, no use to no one. Every three hours I make sure I get some sort of protein, carbs, make sure I’m hydrated. It does get tedious, as I’ve got to keep the weight on. With Six Nations coming up I’ve got to be ready for a lot of running. But it’s not all boiled chicken and a new potato. I’m a big fan of Nandos, because it’s just round the corner from me. The club are good at giving us recipe cards to try. And then I go to Nandos.
Does anything scare you?
I don’t like horror films. I don’t like being scared. My horror history was ruined by Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The things she fought terrified me when I was 10 or 12. I once watched The Exorcism of Emily Rose and I had to walk out. Oh, it was horrible. It’s just too scary. It’s like, you’ll never destroy Dracula or whatever, let’s face facts. He’s going to keep coming back. I prefer a good Disney film. Or cartoons. Or Storage Hunters on Dave.