Jackson column: North owes Saints some words of explanation

By Peter Jackson

George North has spent the week stewing in silence over a juicy accusation concerning his conspicuous absence from Northampton’s ‘pathetic’ home beating by Sale.

Alan Gaffney, the veteran Australian parachuted on to the already burning deck after Jim Mallinder’s sacking, suggested that North missed the match not because of an injury but because he didn’t want to play. Had there been a mistake or a misunderstanding, the Saints had ample time to rectify the matter and say so.

Despite the lack of anything remotely resembling an admission that they got it wrong, those who pay North’s wages may still have wondered if there hadn’t surely been some sort of mistake. Hadn’t their favourite Welsh Lion pledged to keep giving everything for the Saints’ cause?

In confirming his Welsh homecoming last November with effect from the end of the season, North left nobody in any doubt as to what the faithful could continue to expect from him. The Saints may have been plagued by a rotten set of results but according to the Boy George everything in Franklin’s Gardens seemed to be in a perpetual state of bloom.

“Saints have developed me as a player and stuck by me through thick and thin,’’ he said. “I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to be part of this great club for the last four years. I have loved every minute of my time here and I am excited to see what we can achieve this season.’’

All that rather flew in the face of Gaffney’s suggestion that North did not want to play against Sale, hardly a ringing endorsement of the player standing by the club not so much through thick and thin as thin and thin.

As for the man himself, well he was said to be feeling very upset but not actually upset enough to come out and say so, even if all that entailed would have been to approve a couple of paragraphs to that effect as written for him by his agent. Surprisingly neither North nor North’s advisor or advisors have seen fit to do that. Instead each appears to have taken a Trappist-like vow of silence broken only by a half-hearted attempt to douse the fires based on ‘sources close to George North’ which could, of course, be the man himself.

According to the source, or sources, North felt like ‘he has been made public enemy No. 1’, that he’s ‘been hung out to dry’, that he’s unhappy because he’s ‘given a huge amount to Northampton and has a great relationship with the fans and team-mates’.

And as for Gaffney, well he was bang ‘out of order’ although again the comment is disguised in anonymity. Northampton are bound to have investigated an issue which will raise contractual issues with the Ospreys eager to sign North for what remains of their dismal season.

Then someone claimed that North had an arrangement with his former boss, Mallinder, which meant he didn’t have to scuff about and play during the non-international weekends of the Six Nations.

Sour relations: Northampton Saints technical coaching consultant Alan Gaffney was dismayed at North’s absence (photo: David Rogers/Getty Images)

Such an agreement sounded highly irregular given Premier Rugby’s supposed stand against allowing non-English players to skip domestic matches during the championship.

I say supposed because two Premiership clubs broke their own agreement in respect of signing Welsh players and giving them full release for the tournament – Bath happy to cough up in respect of Taulupe Faletau as the Saints had done for North, to the tune of £60,000.

Assuming there was an agreement with Mallinder, it would have gone along with the director of rugby and his P45. At a time when the Saints ought to count their blessings that a team as poor as London Irish can save them from relegation, Gaffney would have expected all hands on deck to keep the ship afloat.

The poor George stuff ran so deep that even Warren Gatland felt the compulsion to jump in feet first, suggesting that the WRU would ‘look after him’ if he wanted to return to Wales ahead of schedule.

All that seemed to portray North as the innocent victim. After all, didn’t Gatland say that George had ‘given a huge amount of commitment to them (Northampton) by leaving Wales to go up there’.

He could have said, but did not, that Northampton had given him an equally huge amount of commitment to get him there in the first place, not least in making him infinitely better paid than he had been before leaving the Scarlets.

Italy’s emergence in Cardiff on Sunday provided North with the most welcome of diversions, an overdue opportunity to remind the faithful of what he used to do as a matter of course but hasn’t done for almost exactly 12 months, since the last match of the last Six Nations.

In that respect he could not wish for more accommodating opponents.

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