(Photo: Getty Images)
By Shane Williams
GEORGE North’s knee injury is the latest hammer blow to Wales’ Six Nations chances and I’m now getting seriously worried. Our players are dropping like flies and we’ve known for a while now that in Wales, we don’t have the strength in depth to cope with our biggest stars being on the sidelines.
George’s latest problem has left Warren Gatland very light in the wing positions. He’s set to miss the first game with Scotland next month, Hallam Amos is out injured, and so too is Liam Williams.
Warren must be scratching his head on what to do and I’ve seen a lot of people talk about Josh Adams as the answer. Josh is playing some superb rugby, but we can’t rely on him to save the day.
Let me make it clear, I think Josh is a fine player and a hugely promising talent. I’m not quite sure how he managed to escape the Welsh system, but I’ve seen him in action for Worcester this season and it’s clear he’s one to watch. The Warriors are struggling, they’re second bottom of the Aviva Premiership and Josh is often playing behind a pack that’s going the wrong way.
The fact it hasn’t stopped him from being the leading try scorer in what is one of the strongest leagues in the world is hugely impressive and for me, it says a massive amount about him.
When you’re playing at that sort of level, crossing the whitewash regularly and generating headlines in the Press and on social media, you’re going to get plenty of attention.
That’s happening with Josh right now and with what he’s achieved so far this season, he must be doing something right. Who knows what will happen, but I’m sure he’ll be considered for the Six Nations squad by Warren and given the chance to prove he can step up to international level.
Here’s the thing, though. We can’t expect Josh to fly straight into the Wales side, start tearing it up and transfer his Worcester form into the red shirt. Not immediately, at least.
That’s not because I don’t rate Josh, nor is it because I don’t think he’s capable of excelling on the biggest stage. But it would be asking too much, too soon of a 22-year-old to be our saviour in the next few months. In Wales as soon as a young player starts hitting the headlines, we have a tendency to want to throw them straight into the national side and expect miracles.
We can’t do that with Josh. He has all the potential, but what Wales need to do – if they pick him – is nurture that talent, not risk throwing it all away too soon.
In the autumn we saw the benefits – and some of the negatives – of giving young players a chance. Steffan Evans was handed an opportunity probably earlier than anyone expected, mainly because George was injured then too. Everyone knows how big a fan I am of Steffan and he played some good rugby as well as making some mistakes. That’s to be expected when a young player steps-up to international rugby. For Steffan this Six Nations will be different. He’ll know what to expect now, he won’t be as daunted, and he’ll look to build on his performances from November.
I’d imagine Steffan will probably start on one wing against Scotland and Warren will be praying Liam can get back fit. If he’s available, Liam is in the side automatically. If not, there’s a problem.
For every injury though, there is a chance for someone else. International rugby is a cut-throat business. It’s not nice to look at things like this, but it’s the way it is and guys like Tom James, Alex Cuthbert and maybe Dan Evans need to acknowledge they’ve got a big opportunity here.
Impress for their region in the next few weeks and they’ve got every chance of being involved in the 23 against Scotland.
Of course we’re all hoping George won’t be out of action for too long and can feature in the rest of the Six Nations. The thing for him though is not to push things too much and risk more damage.
I played with George and I’m sure he’ll be hugely, hugely frustrated right now. He had his well-publicised concussion problems and then the hamstring injury which ruined his Lions tour.
Now it’s his knee and I hope all of this doesn’t impact George too much psychologically.
I’ve been there as a player. You get injured, and you’re desperate to get back into action as quickly as possible. Then you come back too soon and compound it by breaking down again. It can have a big impact on you mentally and it’s tough to deal with. Not for one moment do I think George is injury prone, not more than the average player anyway.
But what he’s been through in the last 12 months can’t have helped his state of mind. Let’s hope he can get back fit and play some part in the Six Nations because as I wrote last week, George is a vital player for Wales.
He provides world-class talent and experience too, despite his young age. A quick recovery would be just perfect.