George North: Gatland has set the tone early of what he wants to do and how to go about Ireland challenge

George North and Wales will be looking to start their Six Nations campaign on a high

Wales back George North is looking to hit the ground running ahead of Wales’ opening Six Nations match at home to Ireland.

It should prove to be a tough test against the Irish who are currently the number one ranked team in the world and fresh off the back of victories against Australia and South Africa in the autumn.

Wales had a very poor Autumn Nations campaign in comparison, losing three out of their four games, including a humiliating loss to Georgia but with the return of Warren Gatland at the helm, plus some encouraging Welsh club form prior to the tournament, North knows they are capable of getting back to their best.

The centre said: “It’s been a tough prep week this week so far. The boys have really bought into it and it’s good to have that intensity and focus back leading into Saturday.

“We’ve got Ireland at home first up which is a tough, tough challenge. We know what that task is. "He (Gatland) has set the tone early of what he wants to do and how to go about it.

“It’s a tough ask. They’re a team on form and they’re playing with confidence. We’ve got to go and match them toe-to-toe. If you allow Ireland any momentum or front-foot ball, it’s a long day in the office.”

North will be lining up in the centres alongside the exciting young talent of Joe Hawkins who impressed in the autumn against Australia with an assured and physical performance in the 12 jersey. The Osprey will win his second cap and make his first start in the Six Nations.

“Joe has been on great form for the Ospreys, he’s been building nicely”, said North. “He’s a good footballer, he’s physical and a good ball player as well. I’ve enjoyed playing with him for the Ospreys and looking forward to Saturday now as well.”

At 952 caps, Gatland has picked an experienced side with multiple centurions in the starting line-up, North included.

“Experience is key in the Six Nations," North added. "There’s a bit of resilience in those 952 caps. We’ve just got to go out there on Saturday from minute one until the end and go and match them toe-to-toe,” said North.

After allegations of a toxic culture within the Welsh Rugby Union and controversy away from the field, the national side will be keen to lift the mood with their performance on Saturday.

“It’s been well documented, some important issues have been raised," North said. "We’ll have to leave that to Ieuan (Evans) and Nigel (Walker) to address so we don’t have any of this happen ever again in the Welsh Rugby Union.

“From a player’s point of view, we can only go out and focus on Saturday with the world number one coming into our backyard and we’ve got to be ready for it.”

North is well aware of the quality that is stacked within this Irish side and one of his main jobs will be defusing the Irish centre partnership of Stuart McCloskey and Garry Ringrose.

“I think it shows the confidence of the side when you can have Bundee (Aki) on the bench as an impact player,” added North.

The Welshman will be paying close attention to his opposite number Ringrose, who is a phenomenal talent in Ireland’s side: “He’s a quality player. For both club and country, he’s a standout player week in and week out. Defensively unbelievable and a ball player as well so it’ll be a task for me and Joe to keep him in order.

“It’s going to be a great contest, not just in the centre, but the scrum halves, the ten battle and the forward battle is going to be interesting. The Six Nations is getting harder and harder and it’s amazing to be part of.”