The life of George North and the family who mean everything to...

The life of George North and the family who mean everything to him as big day arrives

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George North becomes a centurion this weekend.

When he strides out into the middle of the Principality Stadium to face England on Saturday, he will achieve something that only five men have managed before him.

At the age of just 28 years and 319 days old, he will also become the youngest man in history to play rugby for their country 100 times.

It will be a culmination of years of hard work, sacrifice and resilience that has seen the promising young athlete from north Wales become one of the greatest players in a nation’s history.

“To sit here on 99… it’s pretty… I don’t know, it takes my breath away a bit,” North admits to WalesOnline, speaking on behalf of Dove Men+Care.

“You don’t really look at it until you stop and take five minutes and over the last 10 years or so I’ve not had a lot of time to stop.

“But it’s huge for me. When you hit that 100 caps, it’s something that nobody can ever take away from you. That’s something that not many people have the honour and privilege to be able to say.

“I can always put a smile on my face, sit back in the corner of my rugby club when I’m old, wearing a curry-stained tie and say: ‘I did that’.

“Nobody can take that away from me.”

While North is the man who puts in the hard yards, breaks his body, puts it back together again and performs on a Saturday, no athlete – in any sport – can succeed without the support of those around them.

But the family member having the biggest impact on his career at this moment in time is the one yet to utter his first words.

Nine months ago, North and his wife Becky welcomed their first child into the world.

Until baby Jac arrived, the winger admits that rugby was the sole focus in his life and it had been that way for over a decade. But things have changed.

You could list a million and one reasons why an athlete may want to be successful – fame, to preserve their reputation, for financial gain, for adulation and the list goes on.

Suddenly there is one that stands above anything else for North, the fear of letting his son down.

“My dad has said it to me and my mates have also said similar things – When they hand you your firstborn, there is not a feeling like it,” he smiled.

“At that point, I could have taken 50 bullets to the chest, ripped a car door off and gone full Hulk to protect Jac when he was first handed to me.

“Now I have Jac, whenever that day comes and we have that conversation, nothing would tear my apart more than him asking: ‘Dad, why didn’t you do that?’

“Playing for your country and representing your family is the biggest thing, the pride and honour that goes with it is second to none. It’s everything.

“It’s another motivation for me now, that I don’t let him down. So when that question does come and he asks: ‘Dad, why did you stop?’ It will be because I was dragged off or I was too broken to keep going, not because I gave in to external pressures and things that were out of my control.”

There is also a realisation that one day, his son will be old enough to realise the scale of North’s achievements.

George North and his son Jac

So what about when that day comes? What are the emotions around the fact that eventually baby Jac will understand just how good his father was?

The question causes the man himself to stare into nothingness for a few seconds, gathering his thoughts.

“That umm… I don’t know what he’s done to me but Jac has given me a whole new dimension,” he says.

“Without sounding weird, nothing else really matters to me. He’s my be-all and end-all at the moment.

“For as long as I can remember, rugby has been my everything.

“We work so hard for the accolades, to win and to be successful in sport. But it’s nice to be able to share that with, not only the squad, but my family members and now my son.

“There is no pressure on him but whatever Jac decides to do – whether it’s rugby, cycling or no sport at all – it would just be nice to have a conversation with him to show that we all go through tough times to get to the end goal.

“It would be good to be able to show him that you can do anything you put your mind to, to show him that me and his mum were half-decent athletes back in the day!”

And so to Jac’s mum, Becky, who was a hugely successful athlete in her own right. During a 13 year cycling career, she became a double track world champion and Olympic silver medallist.

Having endured the highs and lows of sport, she is better placed than most to understand what it takes to reach the pinnacle of your chosen sport and how it feels when things don’t go the way you had hoped.

You get the sense that Mrs North doesn’t give rousing pre-match team talks but provides invaluable support in far more nuanced ways.

“Becky knows what it takes more than anyone, probably to a different level than us. We’re a team. We’re fighting for each other, the jersey and there are 15 of us that take the field at any given time,” said North.

“Whereas she was in a team and working hard but also focusing very much on herself, which is even harder when all the eyes are on you.

Becky James proudly shows off her silver medal after the women's keirin final in Rio
Becky North won silver at the Rio Olympics in 2016

“She doesn’t like to come up with words of wisdom. She’s not that kind of support. But she always knows when I need a kick up the backside and also when I need a hug as well.

“I’m a focused individual when it comes to sport but, in the same breath, when I’m off the field I’m a bit of a joker. Becky’s good for that, she knows when I need to have a laugh and joke to take the pressure away after the day-to-day grind of training.

“But when I do need a sit down and a re-focus, she’s there to hold my hand and guide me through that as well.”

Then there is North’s mum and dad, Jan and David, who have been there since the beginning, from driving their promising young son all over the country for training and matches, to following his career around the world.

They too, have played a vital role.

“They’ve been huge. It’s the yin and yang,” explains North.

“My dad would always say things like it doesn’t matter what it is, son, it doesn’t matter what the obstacle is, you’ll have your setbacks but you’ll get back up, keep going and with hard work and determination, the world is your oyster – you can achieve anything you want when you set your mind to it.

“Then my mam, bless her heart, would never want to see me get hurt, experience disappointment and the rubbish that comes with professional sport.

“She would say to me: ‘You’ve done enough – you’ve played for your school, country and got a schoolboy cap – now come home, we’ll take care of you!’

“That combination of my dad’s steely, never-give-up, Yorkshireman attitude and my mum probably being a bit over the top with the mothering gave me that balance.

“I probably owe my dad four or five cars over the years given the amount of miles we’ve done, up and down from Anglesey to Cardiff. They’ve travelled all over the country and all over the world.

“My mum has never felt stress like it. I don’t think she’s ever watched a full match through panic and not wanting to see me get injured.

“The support of Becky and my parents has been priceless. Without the support from them, I wouldn’t be anywhere near the man or the sportsman that I am today.”

George North in action for Wales

It is not always sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes difficult conversations are needed.

Rugby has never been more explosive and physical than it is at this present moment. Contact injuries are inevitable and the sport is constantly having to think about how it can mitigate the risk of concussion.

North himself has suffered head injuries in the past but it is not a taboo subject for him. He has had conversations with loved ones about injuries and the risks associated with the sport but insists he has total confidence in his own health every time he takes to the field.

“Working in this environment, I’m very much the kind of person that will talk about it. When you’re in this pressure pot, openness and honesty is the best policy,” he said.

“It’s the same with mental health. I do a lot of work with Movember. Part of that, for me, is being able to speak about the rubbish times, the times that are uncertain, the times when you question why, when you look around and everyone is held together by tape.

“That’s where Becky has been amazing in helping me balance what is real life and what is sports life. When that day comes and I have to step away from rugby, there is another life out there, apparently!

“It’s the real world. We’re very lucky to play sports but there is a bigger picture.

“I speak with Becky, I speak to my family – Jac hasn’t got much chat at the moment, though!

He added: “Knowing the experience and the quality of our medical staff, not just Prav [Mathema, head of medical] and the guys but the [external] people that we deal with. We have different doctors for different joints, these people are the best of the best.

“We’re very lucky to have that. These conversations are ones that I’d rather have with them than anyone else so that, when it comes to take the field on a Saturday, if they say to me: ‘G, you’re good’ Then I know that I can cross that whitewash and go full fat milk without a second thought.”

North endured a tough autumn last year. He went into the campaign with just 15 minutes of rugby under his belt over the previous eight months and, perhaps understandably, his form dipped.

But he has been resurgent in recent months, showing some of his best form for the Ospreys and transferring that to the Test arena with a superb performance against Ireland at the start of the 2021 Six Nations.

He has stripped everything back in his game, simplified things, and that spells trouble for opposition defences.

“Between lockdown, Jac and the changing of the guard at the Ospreys with Toby [Booth] and the crew coming in, it’s been a real good opportunity for me to look at myself, look at when I was at my best and how I get back to that,” he said.

“People ask me big questions about what I’ve done and what I’ve changed but nothing’s really changed.

“It’s more about looking at what is in my control. People were telling me I was rubbish because I wasn’t working hard and I wasn’t getting any ball. But the numbers stacked up. I was running like a mad man trying to get my hands on the ball but it just didn’t come to me.

“How can I control how many carries I have or the effect on the carry if I don’t have the ball?

“It’s just trying to be very real with my goals and understanding each game is different.

“It’s understanding the week and the bigger picture a little bit more. It’s been brilliant and it’s lifted a bit of a weight. I’ve been a bit more real to myself and trusting the people who I know will give me an honest answer.

“To me, it’s very simple. I’ve tried to limit the amount of stuff I was focusing on during the game, cut it right back. Then, when things are going a million miles per hour and everyone is shouting at you, you know that there are just three things you have to focus on.

“It seems to have really put the enjoyment back in my game.”

North’s critics often push the idea that there has been a drop in the level of his performances in the second half of his international career after bursting on to the scene as a teenager.

But the numbers don’t fit the narrative. In his first 50 caps, North scored 22 tries and he’s scored 20 in his last 49 appearances in the red jersey.

The 42 try total puts him second on the all-time list of Wales’ try-scorers. He currently trails the great Shane Williams by 16 scores and he’s got his sights set on his old team-mate’s record.

“I will certainly be reviewing that one over the next few weeks,” he smiled.

“It’ll be a great opportunity to reach one milestone that has taken me the best part of nine years to achieve, then I can re-focus on something else.

Laughing, he added: “One thing I’d like to say on that is that defences weren’t as good back when Shane was playing!

“Shane is one of my heroes. As a young Welshman at that time, watching him on the ball and off the ball, the energy, is something that is very much in my mind.

“To be in the mix and in those circles, to have you ask me about that is something I never thought would happen.

“Alun Wyn [Jones] seems to keep going, so I can’t go for most-capped Welshman ever! For now, it’s a case of focusing on the weekend, enjoying my rugby and being the best I can be for club and country.

“What will be, will be.”

Despite all he has achieved in the game – and we’ve no time to cover his two Lions tours – you get the sense that more is still to come.

At the age of 28, North appears as motivated as ever to push for further honours. He is content, not as a rugby player but as a human being, a husband and a father. And it’s showing in his performances on the field.

Will he catch Shane? You’d be a fool to bet against it.

*George North is a Dove Men+Care ambassador. For more rugby and fatherhood stories, follow @DoveMenUK Twitter or @DoveMenCare Instagram*



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