George North openly admits that he didn't expect to be in the Wales squad for South Africa this summer.
The past year was a year of making the most out of the unplanned.
It seemed that his summer was all planned out 12 months ago. North's Six Nations title was won by his country through a change in position and form. He had his sights set on the third Lions tour.
He tweeted that instead, expressing his sadness at the Ospreys' serious knee injury.
This meant that he could spend more time with his family and be a pundit rather than playing Springboks. However, he also took a short break from the game which he now suggests he may have needed.
North, a 30-year-old man now in recovery from the ruptured ACL in April 2021, says that “it was never my Plan A.”
“It was hard mentally at the beginning because I felt like I'd gotten myself into a good situation; I was playing very well, I'd gone to the wing to 13 off of the back of Six Nations and had that fuelled me by the Lions Tour.
“That was taken away and I found it really tough but to have that mental break… I don't think people understand the pressure pot you are on.
“You don't work from 9 to 5 on Monday to Friday. You also play Saturday. It's twelve months. Every day you are under pressure to deliver. You can't do it and it's taken away, so you need to take a break.
North enjoyed the first part of the time off, which was quite unexpected considering he had barely stopped since his debut as an 18-year old in 2010.
North believes that the injury also helped him physically, allowing him the time to rest his other body parts and “cross out all of the little niggles” he was carrying.
While doing all this, he also had “bonus” time to keep his oldest son Jac busy. Becky James, an Olympic cyclist, was there to give birth to their second child Tomi. North refers to it as “golden lights in a pretty hard time.”
Although he now recognizes that the time was well spent, it doesn't necessarily mean that it was easy.
North says that the first two months were enjoyable because it was the first time in a while I stopped. But after eight to nine weeks, I was ready to go again, even though my knee was still not strong enough.
“There were some setbacks, and there were quite a few return dates. There were some difficult times. People like them. [Ospreys medical team members]Matthew Bowen and Liam Thomas had to drag me through quite a few, particularly in my stroppy stage a few times. When that return date was removed for my safety, it was my own benefit.”
Wayne Pivac, Wales' head coach, suggested a Six Nations return at one point. However, it never happened. North admitted that the first major injury in his career required him to manage his expectations. As the prognosis shifted from seven months to eight months, to eventually 12 months, he said: “It's going to get worse if I am grumpy.”
However, it did not mean that Wales's disappointing campaign was unpleasant to watch.
He says, “It was strange and it was difficult because I guess that I'd hoped I'd been able to help.” It's my life, my career, and many of these guys are my best friends. I found it more difficult to be a fan at the stadium than I did at home, so I started working around the games.
He is not there anymore, he is assisting the Ospreys with their quest for a Champions Cup spot.
Although the thoughts aren’t on the world champions yet, they are focused on South African opposition. Toby Booth's side will be guaranteed the United Rugby Championship's Welsh Shield if they win the bonus point over the Bulls, North stating that it would be “huge” for them to make it happen.
He called his performances so far rusty and said the game has increased in speed and physicality in his absence. But he insists that he had no doubt he could reach his goal of getting back and getting back at his best, even though he is aware his unexpected break could prolong his career.
He stated, “It's definitely helped the rest of me body. We don't get cared for, but the intensity of the season means that you can't always fully recover from the intense battles. It is important to be able to take a break, not only physically, but also mentally. It's something I would like to believe, especially since I'm not under contract.
“The time off should help me heal mentally and physical, and my body – prior to getting smashed around in games – was feeling fantastic.
“Now it is about trying to find consistency again for myself, getting back in the game and putting my hand up when I can.”