Wales boss Gatland would back North if winger wanted early Saints exit

George North will start for Wales against Italy on Sunday (picture: Sharon Lucey)
George North will start for Wales against Italy on Sunday (picture: Sharon Lucey)

Warren Gatland has told George North that the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) would support the wing should he want to exit Saints prior to the conclusion of his contract.

North has already announced that he will be heading back to Wales when his Northampton deal ends this summer.

But he was reported to be unhappy with comments Saints technical coaching consultant Alan Gaffney made after last weekend's defeat to Sale.

Asked why North, who was on a Six Nations rest weekend, did not feature in the Aviva Premiership clash at Franklin's Gardens, Gaffney said: "It's a pretty good question and it's a very difficult one to answer at this moment in time.

"You'd probably have to ask George.

"We picked the side that actually wanted to be out on the pitch and the best side for Northampton.

"I haven't spoken to George personally about it, but I'm just disappointed he wasn't here."

And Gatland now says the WRU will look after North should he not want to play for Saints again following those comments.

“The message I have said to George is if he wants to come home quicker than next season, we will look after him,” the Wales boss said.

“We are here for him. He knows if he isn’t comfortable in that environment, we will support him and the Union will support him 100 per cent for whatever happens with him."

But Gatland, who has handed North a place on the wing for Sunday's Six Nations clash with Italy, was in no mood to criticise Gaffney's approach, saying 'coaches do their own thing - I don’t have any problem with that'.

And the Kiwi, who revealed North was nursing a hip injury following the February 24 defeat to Ireland, added: “I think George is just focused on getting on the field and starting on Sunday and then looking back to get back to his club.

“I understand from Northampton’s perspective, they are under their own pressure in terms of trying to get things back on track.

“George has given a huge amount of commitment to them in the first place by leaving Wales to go up there.

“He has enjoyed his time there I know. It’s a great club with fantastic facilities.

“He has always talked hugely positively about his time up there and just how great the club and fans have been.”