By his own admission George North is yet to fire in Japan but with Wales in a World Cup semi-final with South Africa on Sunday morning Warren Gatland will hope his best is yet to come.
Gatland is in his last campaign as Wales head coach and only a giant Springbok outfit stand between him and a first final for Wales. To get past the Springboks, Gatland’s battered and bruised side will have to produce their best performance of the tournament and get the best out of their key men.
One such man is North. With 39 Wales tries in 90 Tests – at the age of 27 – you cannot really argue with his record, yet there remains a feeling he could do more to help his team.
“My form has been mixed,” he said. “This is the biggest stage and where you want to be playing your best rugby. I’ve not been playing badly, but not to where I want to be. We are now in a semi-final and to be part of it is something special.”
North featured in Wales’s last World Cup semi-final – 2011’s 9-8 defeat by France at Auckland’s Eden Park – following the dismissal of Sam Warburton.
“This one has got a better feeling about it. We’re chuffed to be here and thrilled to be one of the last four standing,” said North. “In 2011, we went into it as a bit of an unknown and got there by sheer determination and belief. This time we’ve earned our place. We’ve got to push on now.
“These are the games you do all the hard graft for. They are the ones you’d give anything and everything to be a part of. Everyone in the squad is ready for that challenge.”
This Wales team is more experienced, boasts greater depth, and has had more success than the one of 2011 and this is the best shot Wales will have at global glory.
Whoever comes out on top in Yokohama on Sunday morning will meet England in the final after Eddie Jones’ side produced a performance for the ages to beat New Zealand 19-7.
Wales have won their past four meetings with South Africa. The two sides often meet outside of World Rugby’s designated Test window with the Springboks without a number of their leading players as a result. This time their only big absentee is the injured wing Cheslin Kolbe.
Wales are also without the crocked Liam Williams and Josh Navidi. On Saturday, Wales insisted Jonathan Davies is 100% fit to start the game despite the centre’s troublesome knee injury.
Davies and his midfield partner, Hadleigh Parkes, have recovered from knocks but there must be a concern their injuries will count against them in what will a brutal battle.
North will win his 91st Wales cap at the International Stadium in Yokohama. He marked his 2010 debut with two tries against the Springboks as an 18-year-old and is now one behind Wales’s second-highest scorer, Gareth Thomas.
“It was a dream come true to get a cap for my country. To get two tries on my debut was huge for me. From there I haven’t really stopped and it’s been an amazing journey to get here.
“I’ve got an opportunity to face South Africa again, but on a huge stage. We’ve come a long way since 2011, but being able to play in a World Cup semi-final now is huge motivation as it is. It’s something I couldn’t be more excited about.”
South Africa’s Siya Kolisi – his country’s first black captain – wants to follow in the footsteps of François Pienaar and John Smit and unite the Rainbow Nation. Their 1995 World Cup success came with Pienaar as captain and he received the Webb Ellis Cup from Nelson Mandela, the country’s first black president, a year after apartheid had ended.
It was a seismic moment in the country’s rugby history and more global glory followed in 2007. Now Kolisi wants a final meeting with England, the side beaten in the 2007 showpiece.
“We have many different races in our country and 11 different languages,” Kolisi said. “It is one of the positives of our country – it’s really beautiful. That’s why we are called the ‘Rainbow Nation’. When we decide to work together for one goal or as a team and as a country, we can make anything happen and achieve all our dreams.
“That’s why we want to give our best and hopefully play in the final. It would be huge as I’ve seen what it [a World Cup win] has done for the country before.
“I am old enough to remember the 2007 World Cup. I remember what it did for the country then and I know what it would do now.
“We all know Wales kick a lot of ball so their forwards are quite important. It is going to be a battle.”