George North shrugged off his Saints troubles to score two tries for Wales as they beat Italy in the Six Nations on Sunday - and said starting for his country ‘is all I work for’.
The winger has been at the centre of something of a club versus country controversy, with Saints interim head coach Alan Gaffney suggesting the Welshman didn’t want to play in Northampton’s recent Aviva Premiership loss to Sale Sharks, despite being available to do so.
The player is reportedly unhappy with those comments from Gaffney, but he put it all to one side as he made his first Test start for a year at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff on Sunday, dotting down twice as Italy were swept aside 34-18.
North, who has already announced he is leaving Saints at the end of the season to return to Wales, admitted it has been a ‘difficult couple of weeks’, but that he was happy to be part of a Welsh camp ‘with a real focus’.
“It’s been a difficult couple of weeks, but it’s been good to be in camp with a real focus,” said North.
“It was a case of looking at Italy and making sure it was full steam ahead.
“Having this game as a focus was a good thing for me.
“To get a start for your country means everything, it’s all I work for.
“To get a chance to play in a great stadium like this in front of a great bunch of fans was great. Two tries was a bonus.”
North is due to leave Franklin’s Gardens in the summer, after signing a national dual contract at an as yet undecided region in Wales.
But there has been talk the player could leave the club earlier than that, with Ospreys reportedly offering the British & Irish Lions star the chance to play for them for the rest of the current campaign.
Wales head coach Warren Gatland now expects North and Saints club officials to meet before any further developments on that front.
“I think he will go back and meet with the club,” said Gatland. “It is a bit messy, but I am here for him if he needs me.
“With young men sometimes, when they take a bit of criticism, you start to worry.
“He might have thought ‘what’s going to happen? Are Northampton going to terminate my contract? Am I going to have a job next week?’
“My role is to support the players as much as I can and send a message to George that we are here for him.
“He has thoroughly enjoyed his time at Northampton and has always been positive about the fans and the club.
“I just thought it was part of my job to put the player at ease. If anything did spiral out of control we are here to support him.”
North will stay with the Wales squad this week as they prepare for their final Six Nations encounter against France next Saturday.
Saints are without a game this weekend, following their 13-12 Anglo-Welsh Cup semi-final defeat at Bath on Friday night, and are due to return to Premiership action on March 24 when they travel to play Newcastle Falcons.
Saints only have five matches remaining this season.