George North has highlighted Warren Gatland’s “second to none” preparation work ahead of the British and Irish Lions’ New Zealand tour.
Wales wing North and his Lions colleagues met up in south-west London on Monday for the so-called player administration day. It will be followed by training camps in Wales and Ireland before the 41-man Lions squad leave for Auckland on May 29.
With minimal preparation time available ahead of the 10-game trip, which is highlighted by three Tests against the world champion All Blacks, the work done prior to departure will be essential.
And North, who has worked with Lions head coach and Wales boss Gatland since making his Test debut in 2010, believes the New Zealander’s meticulous approach will once again come to the fore.
“Warren gets everyone on the same page very early. Everyone buys into it,” North said. “His preparation and work to prepare people for games is second to none.
“He puts it on the boys to be the best they can be — the way they train and play. He pushes the boys above and beyond in training to show, really, how good they can be and show how we want to play. He puts us in situations in training that we would be put in during games.
“Preparation is key. The mini camps before we go to New Zealand will be huge.”
North, 25, will head off on his second Lions tour four years after playing a major role in the Test series triumph against Australia Down Under. North scored tries in the first and third Tests as the Lions won a first series since 1997, and the 6ft 4in powerhouse recently took his Wales tally to 30 touchdowns in 69 appearances.
“2013 was a good year for me,” added North. “I felt I was playing some good rugby, was able to go on tour and put my hand up for selection for the Tests.
“The whole tour was a great experience, and one that will always stay with me. It is a tremendous honour to be selected for the Lions. “I had never experienced it before, but special is the word to describe it. Players from four nations coming together is brilliant.”
The Lions will open their tour against a Provincial Barbarians XV just three days after arriving in New Zealand, which underlines an essential need to hit the ground running. That game is followed by five more fixtures — four Super Rugby sides and the powerful Maori All Blacks — before a Test series opener at Eden Park, Auckland on June 24.
“The fact you are playing so many games in so little time, the fact that the games aren’t the easiest in the world, means you have to be on your mettle for each one,” North said. “To be fair, to go to New Zealand and play them in their own back-yard is always going to be tough, and the games leading into the Test matches are also going to be difficult.
“For me, it is always about the next step, and it is a massive honour to play for the Lions. It is berserk to think I had my first cap just over six years ago, and now I am heading on a second Lions tour.
“The more you play, the more you get recognised and marked, so it’s understanding my role in the system and how I can apply myself within the game and be the biggest pain I can to the opposition and how I can best impose myself on the game. To be involved with the Lions Test team would be huge.”
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