Wales still sweating on fitness of George North

George North’s return to rugby has been delayed by a further three weeks.

North will be counted out of Saturday’s opening World Cup warm-up against Ireland in Cardiff.

The Wales wing has not played since he was knocked-out playing for Northampton in March, his third concussion in four months.

He has trained with Wales in Switzerland and Qatar but has yet to undergo protocols to take full contact and therefore is not cleared to return to play.

This will fuel concerns over his World Cup future and that the wing is only one more serious knock from a similar length lay-off that kept Jonathan Sexton out for a large period of last season.

However Wales assistant coach Neil Jenkins hopes North will be fit to face Ireland in Dublin later this month.

Jenkins said: “George has been doing most of the stuff with the rest of the guys but is still picking up on a few things with the medical staff.

“He is going well and looking in pretty good shape. Hopefully things will keep progressing and he will take some parts in these games prior to the World Cup. It could be in Dublin in three weeks.”

Ireland will be in familiar surroundings next week but are set to face an unknown quantity in Cardiff.

Warren Gatland will also rest stars such as Leigh Halfpenny, Dan Biggar and Alun Wyn Jones this week as he uses Saturday’s phoney-war as a means to judge the results of a global conditioning plan.

While Ireland have settled for the comforts of home, Gatland has undertaken an ambitious and costly schedule, taking his 47-man squad to the Alps and then Doha.

He has since cancelled a third trip to Poland though Wales have spent almost a month at altitude.

Having pushed his players to “breaking point”, now comes the rugby and the ideal test of whether or not international newcomers can handle Test rugby.

Jenkins added: “Until now the focus has been very much on fitness rather than rugby.

“We have tried to include a rugby ball in everything we have done but the onus has been on getting into tip-top condition.

“At times it has been brutal and standing on the sidelines, you wonder if it’s really necessary to push players so hard. It’s all 100 per cent above what we did as players back in 1991 when I went to my first World Cup.

“But we know it is what’s needed if we want to win a World Cup, especially if we are to get out of the pool we are in.

“Four years ago we may well not have got out of the pool with South Africa and Samoa if we hadn’t worked so hard on our conditioning beforehand.

“We’re all looking forward to getting up and running on the rugby pitch on Saturday against a very tough team.

“You know whatever side Ireland put out, they are going to be strong. We will really be able to see where we are after that.”

That will mean debuts for many of the nine uncapped players in Wales’ squad against the Six Nations champions in Cardiff this week, and Ireland, therefore, are almost certain to come up against English-born forwards Tom Francis and Ross Moriarty.

Francis is a hefty tight-head from Exeter Chiefs who qualifies for Wales through his grandmother. Moriarty comes from sound rugby stock. His father Paul was a Welsh international in both union and rugby league and uncle, Richard Moriarty, captained Wales to the semi-finals of the first World Cup in 1987.

Cardiff fly-half Gareth Anscombe, the high-profile capture from New Zealand and son of former Ulster head coach Marc, is also likely to feature, possibly at full-back.

They all know what is at stake with Gatland set to axe up to 10 players after next weekend’s game at the Millennium Stadium.

Jenkins said: “The players wouldn’t be human if they weren’t feeling a little nervous or apprehensive. They will be looking forward to the game but they also know it is a great opportunity, perhaps their only opportunity, for many to put their hands up for selection.”

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