George North: Wales wing to leave Northampton Saints and return to home country

George North
George North featured for Wales during the Six Nations, but has missed the autumn internationals because of a knee injury

Wing George North is to leave Premiership side Northampton Saints and return to Wales on a national dual contract at the end of the season.

The 25-year-old has scored 26 tries in 54 league appearances since joining from Pro14 club Scarlets in 2013.

North, who has also represented the British and Irish Lions, has 69 Wales caps since making his debut in 2010.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland said a decision on which side North will join will be made "in the coming months".

"It's fantastic George is returning to Wales on a national dual contract (NDC)," added Gatland.

"At just 25 years old he is in his prime and will flourish on an NDC. It's great for the game here in Wales and we will work with George in the coming months to determine which region has best the playing environment to suit him."

'Compelling offer' turned down

North has been out of action since suffering a knee injury in October, but he is expected to be fit to return to the Northampton side late in December.

"Saints have developed me as a player and stuck by me through thick and thin, so it is with a heavy heart that I have decided to move on," he told the club website.

"I love playing for Northampton Saints and am excited by the potential of the squad that is being assembled but, as a proud Welshman, I felt that now is the right time to move back home despite the compelling offer Saints made me."

Having played a starring role for the British and Irish Lions during the 2013 tour of Australia, North was left out for the first Test in New Zealand this summer before returning home early with a hamstring problem.

What does North's return mean for Wales?

Although the new 60-cap rule for players playing their club rugby outside of Wales means North would be eligible to play for the national side next season regardless, his homecoming is still a boost for the Welsh Rugby Union.

"Welsh rugby suffered two major blows earlier this season when Dan Biggar and Rhys Webb both announced they were leaving the Ospreys for England and France respectively," said BBC Radio 5 live's rugby union reporter Chris Jones

"So North's return is a timely bit of good news, especially with Ross Moriarty also close to sealing a move to the Dragons from Gloucester.

"North has spent four years at Franklin's Gardens - once calling it a 'home from home' - but clearly feels the time is right to be back in Wales, even though his 69 caps means he is eligible for the national side wherever he plays."

What does his departure mean for Northampton?

George North
George North has scored 175 points in 80 games for Northampton since making his debut in 2013

Northampton lifted the Premiership title during North's second season in England but, despite topping the table in 2015, have since failed to win another major trophy.

Having finished seventh in 2016-17, Saints had to rely on a play-off to qualify for this year's European Champions Cup.

"The club remains focused on recruiting and retaining top-quality talent and we made an appropriate offer for George to stay," said Saints chief executive Mark Darbon.

"We have Dan Biggar joining us next season, and have plans to further strengthen our backline, and the squad more broadly, over the coming months."

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