Rugby World Cup 2019: Wales' George North relishing new senior role
|World Cup - Pool D: Wales v Georgia|
|Venue: City of Toyota Stadium, Toyota City Date: Monday, 23 September Kick-off: 11:15 BST|
|Coverage: Full commentary on every Wales game across BBC Radio Wales and Radio Cymru, BBC Radio 5 Live and Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, plus text updates on the BBC Sport website and app.|
For many rugby followers, to think of George North is to think of a baby-faced 18-year-old scoring two tries on his Wales debut against South Africa in 2010.
Even at his first World Cup a year later and then when he played for the British and Irish Lions in 2013, the wing's youth was one of his most striking features, at odds with his gargantuan frame.
Now 27 years old and preparing for his third World Cup, with Wales beginning their 2019 campaign against Georgia on 23 September, North is a veteran of the international game with 86 caps to his name.
The nine years since his first Wales appearance have passed in what seems like the blink of an eye, and North now has a more senior role in the squad as part of a leadership group headed by captain Alun Wyn Jones.
"They still haven't put any big decisions on me yet. I think I'm still too much of a child," North jokes.
"The last 18 months I've been exposed more and more to that, which is quite a new experience for me. I've always been the young one.
"Now I'm one of the elder statesmen, which is quite nice.
"I remember coming in fresh-faced ahead of my first World Cup, looking to the older boys for guidance.
"Now I'm getting people asking me 'what do we do here?' and 'what do you think about this?' and I wasn't quite ready for it when I first started."
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Of the 31 players in Japan as part of Wales' squad for this World Cup, only Jones, with 128, has more caps than North.
It seems logical therefore that, during last year's tour of Argentina, the Ospreys wing took on more responsibility.
"I didn't have any official captaincy roles but I had a lot of questions from the boys and it puts a smile on your face because I've earned that role and position," North says.
"People want to know what's right and what's wrong.
"The mix we have now is particularly very good. We've got the older crop that have certainly got plenty of rugby left in them.
"But there are younger boys who have now been in the mixer, they understand international rugby and what's required of them and they're pushing on.
"Look at Josh Adams, he's got 14 caps now and he was quite young coming through and now he looks like he doesn't belong anywhere other than an international field.
"It's interesting but it's been really good and it's opened my eyes to the next block of my career."
If that next chapter might mean captaincy in the future, North has a fine tutor in leadership in the form of his regional and international skipper Jones.
"I'm involved in the senior player meetings now, any decisions that don't affect anyone other than the squad," he adds.
"Say we've got a function coming up, what do we wear to that? I get asked for an opinion on different things.
"In rugby terms, I get asked for my thoughts on things. I just give my opinion and it may not get used but sometimes it is.
"As a squad, we're quite fluid now. We can all chuck some ideas in and if it doesn't work you get told to shut up and if it does work we'll try it.
"There might be one thing that isn't going to work but we'll hold it back for later down the line. Having that opinion has been good for me."
More to come from the backs
Wales will certainly be looking to North for inspiration in Japan, with Australia, Fiji and Uruguay also awaiting in Pool D, with the wing usually one of the team's most potent attacking weapons.
The Welsh backline misfired at times during the recent World Cup warm-up matches against England and Ireland, while the squad has been disrupted by backs coach Rob Howley being sent home for an alleged breach of World Rugby's laws on betting.
Stephen Jones will take over Howley's coaching duties but, regardless of who is calling the plays, North is urging his fellow backs to up their game if Warren Gatland's side are to progress to the latter stages of the tournament.
"There's a lot we haven't shown actually, which is quite refreshing," says North.
"There's plenty left in the backline. The forwards have fronted up for us on a few occasions now and we haven't really executed.
"I don't think we've had that ruthless edge in the warm-up games.
"I think we had more line breaks against Ireland but we just didn't execute.
"That ruthlessness has to start now. We're in championship rugby now. It's the World Cup, you can't afford to go into the 22 and not get any points.
"We've got to make sure we're clinical, take points and build the momentum throughout the group stages to give us the best chance later on."