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North under pressure to perform against England

Wales coach Gatland names squad for Six Nations opener two days early

WALES star George North has been told that there is “a lot of pressure and expectation on him to perform” in Friday night’s blockbusting Six Nations opener against England at the Millennium Stadium.

The powerhouse Northampton wing returns to international duty after missing Wales’s victory over South Africa in November because of concussion.

But the 22-year-old, who has scored 19 tries in 45 Tests for Wales, will be under a fierce spotlight.

North replaces in-form Scarlets back Liam Williams, who has to be content with a place on the bench, while one other change following the 12-6 Springboks success sees Gloucester hooker Richard Hibbard returning instead of Scott Baldwin.

Hibbard was unavailable to face South Africa as that game fell outside the recognised autumn Test window and he had to return to his club.

“We had a good chat to George,” Wales head coach Warren Gatland said yesterday.

“We don’t think he has played that well in the Welsh jersey in the last few games, so there is a lot of pressure and expectation on him to perform.

“But one of the things he has done for Wales is that he has scored tries and he continues to do that for his club as well.

“We are looking for him to get a lot of touches, get his hands on the ball and a high work rate.”

North will arrive in this season’s Six Nations on the back of a prolific campaign with Northampton, having scored 12 tries from 15 appearances in the Premiership and European Champions Cup.

He has already posted four more touchdowns for Saints this term than he did during the whole of last season.

Gatland gave advance noticed to the cross-border rivals by naming his squad 48 hours early.

But it contained no surprises as Wales prepare for a World Cup dress rehearsal against opponents they crushed by a record 30-3 scoreline the last time England visited Cardiff two years ago.

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