Rob Howley says having George North available for selection is a major plus for the British & Irish Lions as they go in search of the tries he believes will be needed to beat the Qantas Wallabies this Saturday.
Howley is convinced The Lions need to stay attack minded to start the three-match series with a bang in Brisbane and North could be a key weapon in breaking down a well organised, hard working and physical Australian defence.
North was declared fit to feature at the Suncorp Stadium following a hamstring scare and assistant coach Howley now hopes his Welsh compatriot can help the tourists head past the 20 or so points he reckons will have to be racked up to have any chance of taking a 1-0 series lead at the Suncorp Stadium.
“It’s great to have someone like George, in terms of his physicality, his power and his speed. We’ve only seen glimpses of George North – he’s a phenomenal athlete and hopefully he’ll have that opportunity to show us that over the next few weeks,” said Howley.
“He’s probably one of the best athletes I’ve been involved with as a coach. He can change direction very quickly, he’s got a great step, he’s got power and he’s got speed. When you’re able to bring him in the ten channel, the 13 channel, or staying wide through a passing game, he’s pretty instrumental.
“When he made his debut (for Wales) against South Africa as a 19-year-old, he had 21 or 22 touches. His work rate off the wing is phenomenal. It’s something that we want our wingers to do, to have involvement, because you want your best players on the ball as often as possible. He works tirelessly at his game, he’s very diligent and it’s good for the Lions to have someone like George North available.
“I said from the outset how many points we need to score against Australia in the Tests and what their defensive systems are about: I believe we need to score between 19-23 points and we need to score tries.”
The Lions were unable to reach that tally in Canberra on Tuesday night as they tasted defeat for the first time against Australian Conference Champions the Brumbies.
Howley admits that his side weren’t up to scratch in the capital but he’s backing them to get back on track by doing what they came to Australia to do: win a Test series for the first time in 16 years.
“Sometimes a loss gets you on edge. Our pride has been hurt and we are disappointed and frustrated at losing. You take that hit and it’s how you react to that hit,” added Howley.
“I’ve seen the midweek team put the Saturday team back on track (on past tours) and on Saturday the team that’s selected has to put the midweek team back on track, because many factors were very disappointing. We came up short in terms of our physicality and our intensity. We were quite flat first half and it was great to see the impact off the bench – you could see the whole body language change within five minutes of those guys coming on.
“We have look at ourselves as coaches too and ask whether we could have made those changes a bit earlier, but it’s about getting that balance right in terms of knowing that some of those guys would be selected for Saturday and we wouldn’t want to risk them. We don’t want to compromise the Test 23 because we’re here to win the Tests. You have to move on when you’re on a Lions tour and our aim is to win that Test series.”
The Lions side for Saturday’s opening Test will be named at 12pm on Thursday in Brisbane (3am BST).