George North on how Brian O'Driscoll set a life-long example on 2013 Lions Tour 5 months ago

George North on how Brian O'Driscoll set a life-long example on 2013 Lions Tour

"And I was always saying to myself, 'Why would you do that?'"

George North was only 21 years old when he was selected for his first ever British & Irish Lions tour. However, such was the undoubted talent of the lad, he had already amassed 31 Test outings and 11 tries.

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Then part of a Scarlets team that contained fellow young gun Jonathan Davies, North was selected by Warren Gatland as one of 15 Welsh players to tour Australia with the Lions. He would link up with two Irish players he refers to as 'living legends' on that tour - Paul O'Connell and Brian O'Driscoll.

North, who was speaking with us this week as helped promote the Guinness 'Never Settle' campaign for inclusion and diversity, tells us what a help O'Driscoll was to him on that tour Down Under, and how he has applied that to his own career.

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George North Brian O'Driscoll (left) sets off on a support line as George North carries against Australia. (Credit: Getty Images)

"He was an absolute handful" - Brian O'Driscoll

O'Driscoll was in Australia on what would be his fourth and final Lions Tour. He had only played in one winning Lions Test match, before 2013, and that was the day he made 'Waltzing O'Driscoll' headlines for a wonder try on the 2001 tour.

The Ireland captain would team up with Jamie Roberts in the centre for the first two Tests, with North taking his place on the left wing, and Alex Cuthbert on the right. We also caught up with O'Driscoll and the retired Ireland star ended his fulsome passage of George North praise with a semi-serious warning.

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"Obviously, I saw him breaking onto the scene at the World Cup in 2011, and what an impact he had," O'Driscoll recalls.

"And then that Lions tour in 2013. Now, he's come in at the centre and evolved his game. He's just coming back from a serious knee injury. But he's a phenomenal physical specimen. Searing pace, serious power in his punch as well.

"He was an absolute handful, and he continues to be a handful. Albeit he has now changed and modified his game and, defensively, he's a bit more clever and understanding of the nuances of playing at 13. Just tell him to stay away from my Six Nations try-scoring record!"

George North lifts Israel Folau of the Wallabies while carrying the ball, during the 2013 Lions Tour. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images for HSBC)
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"I am going to go for his try record!" - George North

Chatting with North, a couple of days later, we tell him about the O'Driscoll conversation.

"Oh, Christ! What did he say?!"

"I learned so much from the likes of Drico, in 2013, on that tour," says North.

"I guess the understanding of rugby as a physical sport, but as a thinking game as well. People, and the way the game has evolved around physicality, and it has to be speed and all that. But that, you know, compensates for the rugby knowledge and understanding of the game. That's certainly something I have tried to work on, in the last few years.

"And I'm making no apologies - I am going to go for his try record! As many people know, that's what inspires and keeps me going - these records that need to get done, and get beaten, really."

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North will never forget how much time O'Driscoll, on what he knew would be his final Lions Tour, spent with him and other young players in the squad.

"I luckily had some really strong mentors and characters in the Welsh squad, at the time, to guide me through.

"The likes of Mike Phillips, Lee Byrne, Shane Williams, Stephen Jones, these guys really took me under their wing, from a young age, and showed me about being professional, what it takes, the levels you have to go to, and the details you have to go to, to be at this level. But not Mike, really!

"And Drico, for me, in 2013, he's a guy that has done so much in the game, but he gave me all the time I needed. When I was asking questions about. 'Why did you do that?' 'What are you thinking about when you're coming around the corner?' 'What are you looking at?' 'What's your opinion on this?'

"And he would answer all my questions and would give me the time. And I was always saying to myself, 'Why would you do that?' Because, obviously, in a few months time, we won't be here. We'll be back in red and green, and it will be all guns blazing.

"But that's the character that Drico was. Unbelievable, world-class player, but an unbelievable bloke as well. He went out of his way to help me."

"And certainly now," North adds, "depending on who you speak to about my career, I'm obviously getting a bit older and longer in the tooth, but adapting more into the 13. Obviously playing wing, but keeping that 13 development as well.

"That's something for me, watching how he used to play and the stuff he helped me with in 2013 was priceless, really."

George North

George North was speaking on behalf of Guinness, alongside teammates Justin Tipuric and Dan Lydiate. Guinness is working with its partners to make sure rugby is inclusive and welcoming for everyone. To find out more visit www.guinness.com/neversettle