George North ready for Wales call after comeback
SCARLETS wing George North has handed Wales a timely boost ahead of their Six Nations defence, declaring himself fit and raring to go for the opener against Ireland in Cardiff a week on Saturday.
North came through Saturday's Heineken Cup defeat to Clermont Auvergne, showing no ill effects of the neck injury that saw him stretchered off against Ulster at Ravenhill two weeks earlier.
The 20-year-old had little opportunity to showcase his talents as the Scarlets succumbed to a dominant Clermont side, losing 29-0 to end their miserable European campaign without a victory.
But the sight of North back to full fitness will have delighted Wales's interim coach Rob Howley.
"It was a precaution more than anything (against Ulster)," explained North.
"It was good to get everything checked out over there and a massive thanks to our medical team and the Ulster medical team, they did a great job.
"It is nice to have had the all clear and be back playing again.
"It will be nice to get back into the Wales camp — it doesn't seem as if there has been much time away. We had a tough time in the autumn and all the boys want to put that right. We want to try to push on from where we left off."
North will leave a Scarlets squad desperately trying to halt a run that has seen them win just once in eight fixtures since the start of December.
On Saturday, they never looked like upsetting the form book against one of the favourites for this year's Heineken Cup, especially after conceding two soft tries to trail 17-0 in the opening quarter.
"Against a team like Clermont you can't really give them that much time and space. You have got to match them head to head from the start," admitted North.
"It has been a hard campaign for us since the first game in Clermont. We have shown glimpses and hopefully we can take what we can out of this campaign and put all the positive stuff into the Pro12 and push for that now.
"At the end of the day Clermont are an awesome outfit. They can truck it up, throw it around, offload, they are a great side.
"It is not very nice to lose six from six in Europe and it will be tough for everyone involved, especially with the history of this club in the Heineken Cup.
"But we will try to pick ourselves up and try to make a difference next year."
As well as North, Howley will also be encouraged by the return from injury of flanker Aaron Shingler, who came off the bench in the final quarter against Clermont.
The pair will be part of a nine-man Scarlets contingent in Wales's 35-man squad for the championship campaign, leaving the remainder to turn their attention to two weeks of Anglo-Welsh LV= Cup action before the resumption of the Pro12 and a home match against Connacht.
The Scarlets are on the road again on Saturday when they take on Sale Sharks in Salford, before hosting Leicester in Llanelli on February 3.
"We have to put Europe behind us and try to build some momentum for the Pro12 games we have during the Six Nations," said head coach Simon Easterby.
"The losing run is a concern. Losing, like winning, does become a habit and we have got to start to build some momentum and winning habits.
"We can do that, but we have to be far more accurate and not feed sides opportunities and points like we did on Saturday."