Wales suffer Six Nations blow with George North set to miss opener

Paul Rees
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">George North has not played for Wales since last year’s Six Nations and was injured on his comeback for Northampton against Harlequins at Twickenham.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: David Davies/PA</span>
George North has not played for Wales since last year’s Six Nations and was injured on his comeback for Northampton against Harlequins at Twickenham. Photograph: David Davies/PA

Wales’s plans for the Six Nations have suffered a setback, with George North a doubt for the start of the tournament. He has not played for Wales since the end of last year’s Six Nations and the Northampton wing is out for up to a month after sustaining a knee injury at Twickenham last weekend on his comeback for the Saints.

The 69-cap North was making his return against Harlequins more than two months after suffering knee ligament damage against Saracens in the European Champions Cup, an injury that kept him out of Wales’s autumn international campaign.

North started on the bench at Twickenham in the 50-21 defeat by Quins but was called on after 23 minutes because of an injury to Ahsee Tuala. North was injured in the first move of the match in which he was involved but lasted 40 minutes before having to be replaced.

Wales start their Six Nations campaign against Scotland in Cardiff on 3 February but, even if North is fit for selection, he will have played only one half of rugby in three and a half months.

“While it is disappointing George will be missing ahead of Saturday’s game [against Gloucester], this injury means an opportunity for another player in the squad to step up to the plate,” Alan Gaffney, Northampton’s technical coaching consultant, said.

North is expected to decide this month which region in Wales he will be joining after agreeing a national dual contract with the Welsh Rugby Union for next season. The Scarlets, the side he joined Northampton from in 2013, have first call but are not expected to re-sign him, leaving the Dragons and Ospreys to battle it out.

North’s absence would be a blow for Wales, who are already missing five other Lions for at least the start of the championship: Jonathan Davies, Sam Warburton, Taulupe Faletau, Ross Moriarty and Dan Lydiate.

England warned not to rush Underhill back

Sam Underhill is expected to make his comeback next week after suffering a concussion in November but Bath’s director of rugby, Todd Blackadder, has urged England not to rush him back prematurely.

Underhill this week took part in his first contact training session since sustaining his second concussion of the season against Australia on 18 November, having previously been unable to fully progress through the return to play protocols without reporting symptoms.

The 21-year-old openside flanker will sit out Bath’s trip to Worcester on Friday but Blackadder is optimistic Underhill will return for their Champions Cup match against the Scarlets on 12 January. “He did a contact session today and came through with flying colours but we still have to wait 24 hours. It is looking encouraging for next week but we still have to wait and see,” Blackadder said.

“I think we are asking a bit much of him to be talking about England. One of the goals we talked about on his return is just to complete 80 minutes symptom-free.”

Underhill was appointed one of two defensive captains by Eddie Jones when winning only his second cap against Argentina. Jones did not call on him for the two-day training camp in Brighton this week but, with Tom Curry and Nathan Hughes injured, Underhill’s return to action will be welcomed by England, who name their Six Nations squad on 18 January and begin their campaign in Italy on 4 February.

Blackadder, however, called for caution: “If you have got something that’s not quite right and you keep asking: ‘Are you OK?’ do you see what it does to him? For us we are not asking him, we are just following protocol. In my experience the more you ask him the worse it is.” Gerard Meagher

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