Dr Ellie Cannon's guide on how to beat the back-to-school bugs

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By the middle of September, my surgery is heaving with children who have already fallen ill a couple of weeks into the new school term.

Tummy bugs, coughs and colds all seem to thrive once kids are jam-packed in the classroom all day.

I certainly notice this with my own children. I think the early mornings and long day at school can take their toll on the immune system, which is why I insist they get an early night.

The important thing is most of these back-to-school infections are usually mild and require minimal treatment at home with the help of a pharmacist or your GP.

Here is a comprehensive guide to the most common of school ailments – and how to tackle them...

KEEP ON TOP OF LICE

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

An itchy head – this may start  three months after the initial infection of head lice.

‘They are parasitic insects between 1mm and 3mm long that live on the head and feed on human blood. Many people mistakenly call them nits, but nits are the hatched or dead eggs,’ says nurse consultant Christine Brown, who advises primary care trusts on head-lice policy.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

‘Not everyone has itching. Check your children’s heads once a week,’ she recommends. ‘Lice look like dandruff but stick to the hair.

Look for live insects. Use silicone-based treatments such as Hedrin Treat & Go Mousse (£12, chemistdirect.co.uk) which coats the lice so they die.

Lice have developed resistance to previous pesticide treatments.’ You can comb out lice from wet hair using a special fine-toothed comb and normal conditioner.

However, clinical trials have shown this to  be only 57 per cent effective and  it is time-consuming.

WHEN TO SEEK HELP

Sometimes an allergic reaction to bites can cause dermatitis and infection. If your child has intense itching (and skin is bleeding) then see your GP.

DO THEY NEED TO  BE OFF SCHOOL?

No. Children can return to school immediately after treatment – however, you must treat them. Under public health law it is a requirement that they be treated.

‘In extreme cases of neglect, social services might get involved,’ says Brown.

BEWARE SNEEZERS...

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

Coughs and colds are usually viruses and spread by sneezing – children are notoriously hopeless at covering their mouths.

‘Sneezing, coughing and sniffing are inevitable for most children,’ says Dr Michael Markiewicz, consultant paediatrician at the Bupa Cromwell Hospital, West London.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

Cough syrups are unlikely to make much difference. Give paracetamol for a temperature.

WHEN TO SEEK HELP

‘If a child has a very sore throat or isn’t sleeping because of high fever, see your GP,’ Dr Markiewicz says. ‘They may have a bacterial infection and need antibiotics.’

DO THEY NEED TO BE OFF SCHOOL?

Only if a child has a temperature, but use discretion.

PAIN OF CHICKENPOX

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

Chickenpox is a viral infection causing a rash of clear blisters which spreads and causes pain and itching, eventually crusting over into scabs and dropping off. Children may have a fever.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

‘Paracetamol relieves fevers and discomfort. Sedating antihistamines such as Piriton relieve itching,’ says consultant paediatrician  Dr Jideofor Menakaya at Hillingdon Hospital, London.

‘Be aware that sedating medication may mask serious side effects.’

Experts warn against parents holding ‘chickenpox parties’ because although serious complications with this illness are rare, they do still happen.

Calamine lotion may help itchy skin or try ViraSoothe Chickenpox Relief Cooling Gel (£8.99, 75ml, boots.com), which doesn’t dry on the skin. Give plenty of fluids.

WHEN TO SEEK HELP

‘If your child has eczema they may benefit from the chickenpox vaccine before contracting the condition. Chickenpox on top of eczema can be very distressing,’ says Dr Michael Markiewicz.

Dr Menakaya adds: ‘Meningitis and encephalitis are rare but possible complications. If a child is floppy and unresponsive, not drinking or passing urine properly or has a high temperature, see a doctor.’

DO THEY NEED TO BE OFF SCHOOL?

Yes. Children are most infectious one to two days before the rash appears and until all the spots crust over.

HOW TO SPOT MEASLES

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

Measles is an infectious viral disease. Initially it is like having a cold, says Dr Jideofor Menakaya.

‘Then white spots on a red base appear in the mouth and a red rash appears behind the ears, spreading down the whole body.’

There were 964 confirmed cases in the first half of 2012, compared with 249 in the whole of 2010.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

Normal children’s medications are appropriate such as Nurofen and Calpol. Encourage the child to drink plenty of fluids. See your  GP if you suspect measles.

WHEN TO SEEK HELP

Complications include bacterial infections as well as pneumonia. ‘If a child has a temperature and is not responding, seek medical attention,’ says Dr Menakaya. ‘Rapid breathing with a high temperature is cause for concern.’

DO THEY NEED TO  BE OFF SCHOOL?

Yes. Measles is a notifiable illness. The GP  has to tell  the Health Protection Agency of any confirmed or suspected cases. The school must also be informed.

WHAT IF YOU HAVEN’T HAD A MEASLES JAB

Anyone – adult or child – who hasn’t had the MMR or a single jab needs to have a booster vaccine. The HPA recommends that all children have both doses of the MMR vaccine.

THOSE PESKY PARASITES

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

Threadworms are contagious parasitic worms which lay eggs, usually at night, leading to an itchy bottom. If the eggs get stuck on fingertips, they can be transferred. Once ingested,  their entire lifecycle takes place within the human digestive tract.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

Medication is available at pharmacies. Try raspberry-flavoured Pripsen sachets (£2.69, expresschemist.co.uk) or Ovex tablets (£6.29, pharmacy2u.co.uk). Look for the active ingredients Piperazine and Mebendazole. Treat the whole family, but be aware they can’t be used by pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers.

‘You must repeat treatment after 14 days to ensure all the worms are dead,’ says nurse consultant Christine Brown.

‘Extremely good hygiene is vital to prevent spreading and causing further infection,’ she says. ‘Wash all towels and bedding. Bath children each morning to remove eggs laid overnight, disinfect loo seats and wash hands frequently.’

WHEN TO SEEK HELP

There is no other treatment.  Your GP is unlikely to offer  further solutions.

DO THEY NEED TO BE OFF SCHOOL? 

‘There’s no need to keep them home following treatment but  it’s probably a good idea to let  the school know,’ says Brown. ‘The school will be discreet but may wish to take its own precautionary measures.’

TUMMY TROUBLE

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

Vomiting and diarrhoea – known medically as gastroenteritis – is inflammation of the digestive tract either by viruses or, more rarely, bacteria.  ‘Bugs’ are often contagious and can spread quickly.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

‘Keep children hydrated with flavoured Dioralyte  or half-diluted lemonade,’ says Dr Michael Markiewicz. The salt and sugar in Dioralyte helps water to be absorbed. There is often little you can do if a tummy bug is going round – but regular hand washing, or an antibacterial/antiviral hand gel may help.

WHEN TO SEEK HELP

‘If a child is just vomiting it may be a more sinister problem such as a severe underlying bacterial infection,’ says Dr Markiewicz. ‘See a doctor if they have been continuously sick for 24 hours, or if they become floppy and drowsy.’

DO THEY NEED TO BE OFF SCHOOL?

‘Yes, children are infectious while they have symptoms. Don’t send them back for 24 to 48 hours after they were last sick.’

PERSISTENT COUGHS

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

Early symptoms of whooping cough – or pertussis – are  cold-like. The second stage is characterised by intense bouts of coughing and bringing up thick phlegm.

‘The whooping sound occurs when the child has coughed a number of times and not had time to breathe properly,’ says  Dr Markiewicz.

It can be contracted at any age, as the immunity provided by the vaccination wanes after a few years. There have been 3,523 cases this year and six pertussis-related deaths in infants.

‘We are very concerned about the continuing increase in cases,’ says Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, immunisation expert at the HPA. ‘Parents should ensure that their children are vaccinated on time so that they are protected at the earliest opportunity.’

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

Antibiotics are necessary to prevent infection of others.

WHEN TO SEEK HELP

Whooping cough is dangerous in babies. If they go floppy they may need oxygen. ‘Babies with feeding or breathing difficulties should always be in hospital,’ says Dr Jideofor Menakaya. When older children have significant breathing difficulties, also seek medical attention.

DO THEY NEED TO  BE OFF SCHOOL?

Yes and it may be a long haul  – it is also known as the 100-day cough. ‘It’s disruptive. Children can’t go back to school until it’s gone,’ says Dr Markiewicz.

NEW TERM TANTRUMS

‘Starting a new school is always stressful. It’s often hard to generalise about the best way to resolve children’s problems,’ says educational psychologist Professor Julian Elliott. He suggests solutions to three common situations.

THE PROBLEM: Your child screams and clings to you when you drop them off.

THE SOLUTION: Leave calmly with as little commotion as possible. Teachers are experts in dealing with such problems and in 99 per cent of cases, the child will soon be pacified.

 

THE PROBLEM: Your child is complaining of tummy aches or headaches.

THE SOLUTION: If the cause is anxiety or concern about events at school, do not give in to your first instinct and let them stay at home. This will often store up problems for the future. Discuss what the problem may be and reassure your child. If it is affecting their health or the distress continues, talk to the school. See your GP to eliminate a physical cause.

 

THE PROBLEM: Your child is suffering night terrors, disrupted sleep or not eating properly.

THE SOLUTION: Ensure they understand that you are taking their concerns seriously. Help them gain a realistic perspective. The unpredictability of school is often the problem.




Why childless women are heading for Spain

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Frustrated by long waiting lists and huge costs here, more and more childless women are seeking fertility treatment abroad to enable them to have a family.

This is certainly the case for women seeking egg donation, where Spain is offering accessible solutions.

More and more childless women are seeking fertility treatment abroad to enable them to have a family

Why would a couple opt for egg donation to conceive?

Some women are unable to get pregnant due to premature menopause or a long-standing failure of their ovaries, and do not produce their own eggs.

Alternatively, some women’s ovaries may have been affected by chemotherapy. Donation is also considered after several failed IVF attempts, as it can be a problem with the eggs that is causing the failure.

For a small group of women, egg donation is an option to avoid passing on a genetic illness.

Where do donor eggs come from?

Healthy women donate eggs altruistically in order to help other couples conceive. Some women will do this with no connection to any couple having difficulty conceiving.

Many donors, however, do so in order to help a specific couple. Clinics sometimes have ‘egg-sharing’ schemes through which women donate eggs to reduce the cost of their own IVF.

Why travel to Spain for treatment?

Firstly there are issues of availability – altruistic egg donation is much more common among women in Spain, and the supply of eggs is far greater than here.

This leads to minimal waiting times and greater choice. And Spanish law makes it much easier to have this procedure, recognising the right of a single woman to undergo any fertility treatment, regardless of marital status or sexual orientation.

Are women paid to donate eggs?

There is a compensation, usually in the order of £750. But donating eggs is an involved procedure where the donor has to take a course of hormone treatment, and at a later date eggs are collected.

Donors are not allowed to be paid – the money is compensation for their time and dedication.

Spanish legislation requires that egg donation is anonymous (donor and receiver cannot meet each other either in  the present or in the future) and voluntary. All eggs are screened for genetic illness and the women must be under 35.

Will a child be ‘mine’ if eggs are donated?

You will not share DNA with your baby but clinics do make the effort to match donors to mothers for physical characteristics.

In Spain, matching the donor to the  recipient mother for physical characteristics is written into the egg-donation legislation.

DR ELLIE CANNON: There can be good reasons for 'bed blocking'

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The horrible label ‘bed blockers’ - elderly patients well enough to go home but with nowhere to go - surfaced again last week as the Department of Health said £4 million a week is spent on these individuals.

The label fails to recognise there might be a vulnerable, frightened and unsettled person in that bed.

Moreover, to call the patient a ‘blocker’ implies they are to blame, when there are many managerial reasons for a person not being discharged when they should be.

The label of 'blocker' fails to recognise there might be a vulnerable, frightened and unsettled person in that bed (file picture)

Why are patients kept in hospital when they’re well?

They can be waiting for services to be set up before they are discharged safely – for example social services or home rehabilitation.

Discharging them without this in place could be unsafe. Circumstances can change while the patient is in hospital and they may be waiting for a residential or nursing care home place.

Isn’t there a more efficient way to organise this?

Due to cutbacks in social care and community services, there can be delays organising such services. This has always been the case but it is worsening. In many areas, there are no intermediate beds or halfway houses to stay in, so in-patient beds get taken up.

How can I prevent my elderly relative staying in hospital unnecessarily?

Make sure the ward staff are fully aware of how much your relative can cope with at home, and the care the family can realistically provide. While your relative is in hospital, establish what help is available locally through the NHS, social services or charities.

My father is weaker each time he is discharged from hospital. How do I know what care he will need?

If someone is admitted with a stroke, for example, it is not easy to anticipate their level of function or their care needs. The hospital must help you with this by organising  an assessment with an occupational therapist and  a physiotherapist to establish what care your father needs.

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Emergency jabs as whooping cough cases triple

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There has been a sharp rise in the number of whooping cough cases in the UK - 11 babies have died so far this year.

This has led to the Department of Health launching an emergency vaccination programme for pregnant women in an effort to combat this serious illness.

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A sharp rise in the number of whooping cough cases in the UK has led to the Department of Health launching an emergency vaccination programme

Why has the Department of Health initiated this now?

Three times as many cases as normal have been reported: 235 babies under three months have been ill. Most babies who get the disease are so ill that they will require hospital treatment.

Why has there been this rise in cases?

Parents have been forgetting to get pre-school booster jabs for their children, and many adults vaccinated in the Seventies and Eighties are susceptible as their immunity seems to have waned.

Is it safe to have a vaccination when I’m pregnant?

It doesn’t contain the live virus so it cannot give you the disease.

Why can’t they just vaccinate newborns?

Their immune systems are probably too immature, but immunity is passed on if their mothers are vaccinated when pregnant.

When is the correct time to get the vaccination?

Usually it is between 28 and 38 weeks. But you can still have it if you are already past 38 weeks.

Will this affect other vaccinations for my baby?

No, the immunisation programme for infants won’t change.

VIDEO: Prof. David Salisbury explains why vaccine is important

DR ELLIE CANNON: If at first you don't conceive, read this

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I was interested to read about a new formula that can help predict a woman’s chance of conceiving depending on her age, but I won’t be recommending it to my patients.

Investigating infertility is a common consultation for me in general practice, but I don’t think these statistics tell the full story.

There are many factors that affect chances of conceiving, some immeasurable, such as stress, which is why fertility cannot always be predicted by science.

There are many factors that affect chances of conceiving which is why fertility cannot always be predicted by science

At what point should  I go to the doctor to discuss fertility?

A few go when they start trying for a family, and this is fine to discuss pre-conception health, particularly if you have any medical problems.

But most will wait until there appears to be a problem. It would be normal to try for a baby for a year before seeing your GP if you are under 35, or six months if you are older.

Trying to conceive means having regular intercourse, about three times a week.

Some 84 per cent of couples conceive in the first year. Of those who don’t, half conceive in the second year.

I know fertility treatment is restricted on the NHS. What about investigating  a problem?

Investigating infertility is always offered on the  NHS. If there appears to  be a problem, your GP will run tests.

What will my GP do when I go?

She will run through your health, your medication and whether your periods are regular, if you have conceived before or had any miscarriages.

The first stage after this is blood tests – you will need two, at different times in your  cycle, to see if there are any underlying conditions such as polycystic ovaries, premature menopause or thyroid problems. Your husband  also needs a consultation.

What can my husband expect?

A chat about his medical  history and lifestyle, such as smoking and drinking. He would be referred for a semen analysis to see if there is male infertility.

My first child was conceived naturally but I can’t get pregnant again.

We call this secondary infertility. The process is  the same and you still need  to undergo the investigations with your husband.

DR ELLIE CANNON: It's heartbreaking to tell a parent that their child has leukaemia, but it can be beaten

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Full recovery: Actress Julie Walters with her daughter Maisie

Recently, I had to break the news to a parent that their child had leukaemia. As a parent myself, I can’t bear to think about how difficult this must be to take.

But there is some good news about this blood cancer  – the outlook for children with many forms of the disease is improving greatly.

The most common type of leukaemia  in children is ALL, or acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, which affects 450 children a year in the UK.

Mamma Mia! actress Julie Walters was devastated when her daughter Maisie was diagnosed with ALL at the age of two, but after undergoing chemotherapy she went on to make a full recovery.

How can you get cancer of the blood?

It occurs when the bone marrow, where blood cells are made, starts to overproduce immature blood cells. These take over the blood and fewer normal cells are produced, so the blood can’t function normally and carry oxygen around the body. This type of leukaemia develops  and worsens quickly.

What are the symptoms to look out for?

Bruises and spontaneous bleeding such as nosebleeds or bleeding gums are typical. Children become anaemic quickly and the symptoms are tiredness, paleness and breathlessness. These come on rapidly and dramatically, with a marked change within weeks.

How is it diagnosed?

An urgent blood test would be taken, which gives a good idea if there is a problem. The diagnosis is confirmed using a bone-marrow biopsy, which takes a sample using a needle so cells can be seen under a microscope.

What can be done for these children?

Many factors affect treatment and prognosis but children with ALL tend to do well. A study in 2008 of children aged between one and nine with the disease showed that 88 per cent were well five years after treatment, due to better drugs.

What exactly is the treatment?

Mostly chemotherapy using highly toxic drugs to kill the abnormal blood cells. This can take as long as two years. The treatment depends on the exact type of leukaemia. Radiotherapy or a bone-marrow transplant may also be used.

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Do you really need a doctor for a runny nose?

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It’s National Self Care week. The initiative, which is backed by the Department of Health, aims to encourage people to manage minor illnesses at home.

The Government estimates that more than 50 million consultations a year are for trivial ailments that do not require a doctor’s appointment.

Aside from costing the NHS about £2 billion each year, this also puts pressure on overstretched GP services.

Trivial ailments: Five million people go to see their GP about a blocked nose every year

All too often the first patients to be seen are those who are fastest on the redial button rather than those who need it most.

Isn’t this doctors trying to make their own lives easier?

      More from Dr Ellie Cannon...   How to repel the dreaded winter vomiting bug, the norovirus 22/12/12   DR ELLIE CANNON: It's heartbreaking to tell a parent that their child has leukaemia, but it can be beaten 20/10/12   DR ELLIE CANNON: If at first you don't conceive, read this 13/10/12   Emergency vaccinations for pregnant women as whooping cough cases triple 06/10/12   DR ELLIE CANNON: There can be good reasons for 'bed blocking' 29/09/12   DR ELLIE CANNON: Why childless women are heading for Spain 22/09/12   How to beat the back to school bugs: A guide on tackling the term-time ailments 08/09/12   DR ELLIE CANNON: Measles - a killer on the way back? 01/09/12   VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

Absolutely not. Self-care is about empowering people so they don’t need to rely on their GP. Many people have lost the ability or confidence to care for themselves during minor illnesses.

We certainly under-use the huge knowledge base of pharmacists who are widely consulted for advice in Europe. Each year, for instance, five million people go to their GP with a blocked nose, most of whom will be advised to go to the pharmacist.

What sort of conditions should we be treating ourselves?

Put simply the short-lived, common minor ailments such  as runny noses, sore throats, mild sunburn, nits, threadworms and conjunctivitis. However, if the problem lasts for more than week  it is important to seek help. Why do we not have the self-care knowledge when we have such ready access to health information on the internet?

There is much less knowledge and advice passed on in families and communities than there used to be and, because people want  an immediate cure, they turn to professionals for help.

The plethora of online health information can actually be confusing rather than helpful, just as the wide range of over-the-counter medicines may be somewhat bewildering.

This is why a good pharmacist is such  a valuable source of health information and medicine.

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How to repel the dreaded winter vomiting bug, the norovirus

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There is a huge number of cases of norovirus, or winter vomiting bug, this year.

More than 800,000 cases have been confirmed since the summer, an 83 per cent increase on the same period last year.

The real figure is likely to be much higher given that many cases are not reported.

Preventative measures: The norovirus is easily spread through contaminated hands and surfaces so hygiene is key

How can the spread of the infection be contained?

The infection spreads easily from person to person through contaminated hands and surfaces, so hygiene is critical. It is particularly crucial for children and those handling food.

Those who have had the infection must remain isolated for 48 hours after recovery to prevent others being infected. We have already seen hospital wards and schools closed after outbreaks. This is an effort to contain the virus and curb a potentially larger epidemic.

Why does it happen every year?

Norovirus is no different from other viruses that circulate at this time of year, but it is incredibly infectious.

 

It is the UK’s most common cause of gastroenteritis, and spreads easily when everyone is cooped up inside during the winter.

One problem is that people do not develop long-lasting immunity  – you are protected for only a few months, so next winter you can easily get it again.

Is it a serious illness?

For most people, absolutely not, as it lasts for only two or three days and causes vomiting, some diarrhoea, fever and malaise.

Most people recover with no medical intervention. But for babies and the elderly, dehydration is the problem: keeping up fluid intake can be difficult, and occasionally a stay in hospital will be necessary.

What’s the best treatment if you’re otherwise healthy?

Rest and isolation. Sip small amounts of water or suck ice cubes for steady fluid intake. Take the anti-sickness medicine domperidone, which you can buy over the counter, and control fever with paracetamol.

Do I need to contact my GP?

Only if there is any sign of dehydration. For sick children, speak to the doctor about medicine that can be prescribed for severe vomiting, and paracetamol suppositories to control a temperature if oral medicine is not tolerated.

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Six Nations 2012: George North exclusive

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The RBS Six Nations kicks off this weekend with the focus on a new look England. However, in Wales one young man has already made himself a star. And here Sportmail's new columnist George North opens up about life at the top of the game.

The World Cup was one hell of an experience

It feels like years ago now but I will keep hold of it — my first World Cup, my first full competition for my country.

Welcome: George North has signed up as Sportsmail's Six Nations columnist

With Ireland approaching we’ve looked back and spoken about that quarter-final. It was probably our best performance but in some ways Samoa was more significant. It was  must-win, we were getting smashed up by these massive Islanders and we still came away with the victory. The whole team grew in confidence after that.

I owe the supporters a thank you

Like all the players and the management, I really do want to thank the fans for their incredible support and for being so passionate while we were out there.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out there is pressure on us now after how well we performed and it did help probably being out of the picture for a little bit, just free to get our training done and get our prep in.

Personally, I try not to listen to any hype too much because it can get in the way of training.   

Powering through: North is one of the most exciting in his position in the world

The Poland training camps are as much a mental as physical battle

Early mornings, long days. The work was similar to our pre-World Cup training camps but we couldn’t do the same volume because it was a shorter turnaround.

It was so cold in Gdansk that nobody really wanted to be there but we know it is all for a good purpose so you just get on with it.

The day starts at 6am with ‘monitoring’, which is a weigh-in and your saliva and urine tests for hydration levels, then the first session in the gym starts an hour later. We did a fitness session on the beach — it was so cold there was snow on the sand. I couldn’t get my head around that.

Work ethic was always important to me because it had to be... 

I believe it’s my work ethic that has got me here today. In Wales, there is a lot of competition to get a look-in and being from North Wales meant I didn’t get many chances.

The geography means all of the rugby is based in Newport, Llanelli, Swansea and Cardiff. It is better now but we hardly got any chance to play in South Wales so taking your chances was key. It’s something I’ve always believed in: if you work hard you’re rewarded.

They are moving Under 20 home Six Nations matches to North Wales now which will be a great thing.

…it was something I learned from my old man

Both my parents have had a massive impact on my life. My dad always said: ‘When you’ve got a chance, work until you’ve nothing left because you might not get another.’

I have an older brother and two older sisters who are the complete opposite to me. The joke in the family is that my brother got the brains and I got the brawn. He’s the A-class student and I’m the A-class lump.

I lost my wooden spoon at the World Cup

The youngest player in the squad has to carry a giant wooden spoon. In the last week I lost it. Ninety-two hours later — and about 12 room raids — I finally found it in Adam Jones’ room. It cost me three figures in fines and the boys wound me up. I wasn’t happy. It kept changing hands and I was always just behind it.

Get in shape: The Wales embarked on a challenging training camp in Poland, which included cryotherapy chambers

We don’t stay in camp all week

It varies depending on our schedule. We generally go home on Wednesday and Thursday but away games are different. I’ve never played in Dublin but it’s probably the closest game for my family because they still live in North Wales.

The boys have been telling me it’s a great stadium to play in and it will be two countries who love to play. They play physical and they play fast but they like to play rugby. It’s one of those you wish you could watch sometimes!

I’m a member of ‘the original wolf pack’... 

...but I can’t tell you any more! It’s on my Twitter page and it’s between me and my team-mates. I’m not very good at gaming, but I like to get online and play with the boys - a bit of Call of Duty and a bit of FIFA. It’s supposed to be rest time but I’m sure some of the boys’ heart-rates should not go that high on a day off.

I want to play a bit of golf but I don’t have enough time off. I won’t mention my handicap because I haven’t played in so long but Rhys Priestland is a bit of a golfer.

Tribute: North has hailed the retired Shane Williams

I am wary of ‘second-season’ syndrome

It's something a lot of players go through and something I want to minimalize. There is going to be a lot of expectation and I’ve got to deal with it.

It’ll be OK as long as I don’t forget why I’m there - if you lose focus you lose out. Does that make sense or do I sound like a nut case?

I’m not too bad on the superstitions

Compared to my team-mates, at least. I start off with my left sock, then my right sock, left boot, right boot, then I pull my socks up and tie my laces in the same order, left then right. That’s the one thing I have to do before I go on to the pitch.

Shane Williams is a great loss - for me and for Wales

Ask any Welsh wing at any level who is your favourite player and I guarantee you nine out of 10 will say ‘Shane Williams’. I learned so much from him, watching him, playing against him, playing with him, even talking to the guy.

But if he felt it was time to retire then I back him to the hilt. The boys are winding me up saying he’s the new agility guru coming in to teach us to side step.

Injuries are the nature of the beast

This run of bad luck has felt like a bit of a low blow but you can’t get away from playing rugby without getting injuries. It’s bound to happen and we’ve just got to manage them and work around them.

The quality we’ve got means those who come in can still do the same job. Every dog has its day. It all comes back to that lesson: if you have a chance, you take it.

 

George North is supporting RBS RugbyForce, the community rugby programme that is improving club facilities across the nation. To register your club for the RBS RugbyForce Weekend on June 2 and 3, visit: www.rbs.com/rugbyforce

Getting to know George North

I'm not a massive fan of books but I am reading 61 Hours by Lee Child which was given to me by a close friend Andy McCann. It's taking me ages to get through because I read a chapter and then fall asleep.

I don’t have any quirky pastimes but I have started collecting the key cards from hotels. It’s not like I have to, only if I remember.

I have a cat and a dog. The dog is called Bess and the cat is called Splodge - don’t ask, it’s a very long story.

Wolf pack: Despite being the youngest, North is a key member of the dressing room

I don’t really have a favourite holiday destination. I don’t really have enough time if I’m honest. Hopefully after the Six Nations I’ll get some rays on a beach and relax, or go home and see the family in sunny North Wales.

I watch a lot of DVDs and try to go to the cinema as much as I can. It’s a great way to chill out. I’m more into action and comedy - but I can’t stand horror movies.

When I was growing up I really played every sport I could. I didn’t play anything to a high level really, but I just couldn’t  bear to be still for very long.

  More... England's new breed are fired up and ready for Scotland Here's our team... and we're coming to get you in the cauldron of Murrayfield World of Rugby: Saint-Andre must not shy away from being French The Enforcers! Have the TV monitors and citing neutered all rugby's hard men?





Six Nations 2012: George North reveals all about Wales v Ireland

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I remember games in detail because I go over them in the changing room. I sit by myself quietly for five minutes, thinking about what I did wrong and things I did right.

I put the positive things away so that if you’re having a rough day in training you can call on them for strength. The bad things are what to work on.

During the week Rob Howley will give us a list of positives and negatives. Obviously you want more plus signs than negatives on your sheet. Then you go through the footage.

Over the line: George North scores Wales' third try in the thrilling 21-23 victory over Ireland

I try not to read anything about me because if you start reading too much hype then you’ll get above yourself. Luckily, if I chirp up for a second the boys here or my dad at home will chop me down straight away.

It goes the other way, too. A lot of people lost a lot of confidence in me at the start of the season and said I’d just had a lucky break with beginners’ luck and all that. It can get a bit too much when you’re 19. Now I’ve just got to try to play well every week — and hopefully for the next 10 years.

The size of the landing in our hotel room in Dublin was bigger than my entire flat. I walked in and assumed it was a bedroom but it was just the cloakroom and I was thinking ‘what the hell?’ We flew in on Friday and stayed at the Berkeley Court Hotel which is unbelievable for a 19-year-old.

A comfy bed, soft pillows — it’s a hundred miles from what we had in Poland. It was right next to the stadium, I could have jumped off the roof of the hotel and on to the pitch. 

Grandstand finish: wales celebrate North's try that set up a thrilling climax courtest of Leigh Halfpenny's last-gasp penalty

I’m still new to all this so I tend to just follow what the other guys do. I go to bed a bit later before a game so I get a lie-in and nine hours’ sleep. The day itself is quite structured. You’ve got to get your diet right because you don’t want to be starving or too full of food. I have a big breakfast but then we eat three hours before kick-off. It’s usually pasta and chicken and maybe scrambled eggs. I usually don’t eat much.

I don’t drink coffee before a game because it would be like putting a sugar cube in a Coke can and shaking it. Aged 19, on game-day, with caffeine? I’d go nuts! I saw my family the night before, then on the morning of the game. We went for a coffee but I was on water.

It was Shaun Edwards’ idea to bring in a tackle drill after the anthems. When you play Ireland there are three anthems and you’ve got to be introduced to important officials. I could feel my legs getting cold and I was thinking: ‘One sprint and my hamstring’s gone!’ It gets the blood going again before kick-off.

A force to be reckoned with: The Ireland defence team up to prevent a trademark North burst

I saw my dad waving from the top tier. Somehow after the final whistle I picked my family out the crowd. They were on the top tier, right on the edge above the players’ tunnel. We were doing a lap and I looked up clapping and just caught my old man waving. I couldn’t believe it. Fifty thousand people and I catch my old man.

The boys have been giving me grief about the ‘cat flap’. Before the game, Howley said to us: ‘We beat Ireland in the World Cup without offloads, so let’s not offload, let’s just take it to them.’

The idea was to use our physicality and pace and the next thing you know we scored two tries from offloads! To be fair he always says if it’s on you’ve got to throw it.

The ‘cat flap’ offload to Jonathan Davies was off one of the most basic moves we have in the armoury but I think our depth was too much for them to get up on defence. I thought: ‘There’s three guys on my feet, one on me and one coming short — there’s got to be space out wide!’

Leigh Halfpenny may be short but he’s a tank. He’ll rip your head off, he’s unbelievably strong for his size. I don’t even know how they cram him into that shirt.

The size of the back line is a big bonus but if you try to stop us physically then hopefully we can show a bit of skill to unlock you. We’re not just lumps.

Scotland should have beaten England and they are physical as hell. We’ll get smashed around but we just have to stick to our game.

Pocket battleship: Halfpenny is as hard as nails

I ripped a massive hole in my jeans when we went tenpin bowling. I had to go shopping for a new pair with my girlfriend. We had a few hours off on Tuesday so we went bowling.

I bent down to bowl and my jeans ripped all the way down my quad. So the boys are winding me up saying my legs are too big for my jeans and they were all taking pictures.

The loser of the first game had to buy coffees, the loser of the second had to buy cake. Me and Jon Davies were trying to muscle the ball down and send the balls flying but we weren’t very good.  

In the weeks between matches a lot of what we do is rehabilitation. We do some fitness work and weights but only really do one heavy contact session — we call it bone-on-bone. It’s usually four days before a game so there’s time to get over the bumps and bruises.

I brought my clubs but haven’t played any golf. Me and Sam Warburton went for a haircut and I was going to try to play a few holes after but it took us ages walking around trying to find a place.

We ended up going back to Warby’s local which was only 10 minutes away from where we’d started.

Flying high: Wales and North are on cloud nine after beating Ireland

We hang out in the dungeon. It’s the players’ area in camp, downstairs. You’ve got all the laptops, with footage of the games, and a line of food. We share rooms all the time — it’s done by squad numbers and changes every time we come back to camp. It springs up some funny pairings and it keeps everyone tight.

In Dublin, I was sharing with Alex Cuthbert. We’re similar ages so we didn’t have to listen to the old boys talking about ‘when we were young!’

  Click to visit RBS RugbyForce here.

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SIX NATIONS: George North says no-one dare mention the words Grand Slam

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Warren Gatland has made it clear the Triple Crown is only half of what we can achieve. We need to keep our heads on and go all guns blazing to the end.

The feeling of achievement was incredible but Grand Slam is a banished phrase in the camp. We’ve got a Test match and a big physical battle against Italy before we can even start thinking about it.

We needed to beat England to prove ourselves after all the hype and cement this young squad together. We had a few beers to celebrate at the hotel as Gatland said we had earned the right to enjoy it together, but the job is half done.

Crown princes: North and Cuthbert celebrate

On the morning of the England game the first thing I saw was Sam Warburton’s face! We were sharing a room and he woke me up snoring away.

When we got on the bus to Twickenham all you could see was a sea of white with occasional clumps of red jerseys. Those pockets of red meant a lot.

There was a lot of traffic and at one point we didn’t move for five minutes when all you want to do is get there. All the boys are whining: ‘I bloody hate London!’

I can’t describe how I felt in those final moments - it was such a dramatic ending. The last play was scary. We had a player down and that didn’t help, but we dug in and ground out a win. That’s what has been missing these past couple of years, the ability to grind out a victory.

Warburton passed the trophy around the changing room. I’m sure you’ve seen pictures on Twitter of the boys with it. The phones were buzzing - tweets, Facebook, it all went nuts. Twitter is flying through the roof now. 

Powerhouse: North beats England's Ben Morgan

I was massively humbled after the World Cup when I came back with 20,000 followers. It blew my mind. Now it’s more than double! Why do so many people want to know what I’m saying? It’s a compliment but I feel pressure to entertain them all.

We went into the cryotherapy capsule in the car park after the match. It was pretty mad. They told us it was quite close to the changing rooms so I went out in just my shorts, a jacket and no socks on. The next thing you know I’m hiking through a car park full of mad supporters to get to this van that feels like it’s a hundred miles away. They lied to us! It was nowhere near.

I’m really excited for today because it will be my 20th cap. I set myself a goal of winning 20 caps before I turn 20 in April.

Gatland took me and Alex Cuthbert aside and said: ‘We just want you guys to run. Get as much ball in your hands as you can. Whenever you feel like you’re too tired to work any more, work again.’ So we’ve just got to work our socks off for the chances and hopefully we’ll be rewarded with some tries. 

Final preparations: Wales train at the Millennium Stadium on Friday

Gethin Jenkins might come across as grumpy to people but he doesn’t put up with any rubbish. He puts his body on the line, he tackles hard and leads from the front. He’s our third captain in four games but that doesn’t affect us.

They all bring different things to the table but we’re such a strong unit we respond the same way as a team, pulling together to get the job done.

We’re owed a good performance against the Italians. We didn’t actually play that well at Twickenham. We’re due a big game and we can deliver that against Italy.

We need to get a few points on the board to get our head in a good place leading up to France, we need to show we can be clinical when we need to be.

We had a charity dinner in Cardiff and those things are so important. I’ve become an ambassador for Latch Wales, a charity that helps children with cancer and leukaemia in South Wales. I recently lost my uncle to cancer so it felt right. It is important to do whatever you can.

 George North is supporting NatWest RugbyForce, the community rugby programme that is improving club facilities across the nation. To register your club for the NatWest RugbyForce Weekend on June 2 and 3, visit: www.natwest.com/rugbyforce

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SIX NATIONS 2012: World Cup is behind us, George North

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Everyone knows it’s a big game, so let’s just play it.

All the World Cup stuff is media hype. That was a game at the World Cup - this is a different tournament. France are playing a different type of rugby now and we’re playing a slightly different brand too. We need to cut off from all that and just play for 80 minutes.

It’s about making sure my top two inches are right.

Making sure your head is right is something Rob Howley has brought in. I know my stuff - where I need to be, my lines, what I hit, who I tackle, where I run. As long as my top two inches are fine then I’m happy. Obviously we do a lot of work with the body during the week but if your head is not right you’re going to look like Bambi on ice. Get your head right and your body will follow.

Looking forward: Wales are focused on Saturday's game

We got ourselves geed up against Italy but we didn’t fire on all cylinders.

Basic errors and skills let us down. I think we went back a few steps and became less clinical. Up until now we’ve been on the front foot, hitting lines and carrying strong and we’ve got to get that back. Maybe we tried to play too much so we need to cut out all the nonsense. By half-time they were blowing, you could tell because half tackles started coming in, that’s when holes start to open up on shoulders and off-loads are on. When they are hurting that’s when you need to take it to the next level and bring an extra edge.

Wesley Fofana is a good player but he hasn’t played much on the wing.

There’s a lot of open space and it can be a lonely place so we’ll see how he likes it. We were told this was going to be a big week in training rather than an ease-off because there’s no point going into a French game half-hearted - you never know what’s going to hit you. Training has gone really well and there’s a bit more clarity in the camp. It’s clicking nicely towards the end.

Wide role: Wesley Fofana will play opposite North

What’s the point in paying all that money to put a roof on a stadium if you don’t close it when it rains?

I can only guess they will put up some horrible high bombs, but we’ll deal with it. We’ll take it as a compliment, as an attempt to slow us down. We play in Wales year round where the average temperature is about -100C and it’s always raining. You’re born in rain in Wales - there’s not much you can do here without being rained on.

For the 2005 Grand Slam I was still at school and I remember watching the match at home with my family.

I sent my mum through to the back room because she was shouting too much and me and Dad watched in the lounge. I get worked up, but my mum screams and runs on the spot. I know she’s running for them but I’m thinking they’ve got to run too! I can’t imagine what she is like in the stands. She must be in a hell of a state! For 2008, I was at home. It was the first year I was in Under 16s and I knew I wanted to be a rugby player so watching them finish like that really gees you up.

Fond memories: Wales celebrate winning the Grand Slam in 2008

Sam Warburton is one of those rare beasts who can go hide away in a cave for two months, get himself big and strong and still make 80 minutes without a bead of sweat on him.

It’s ridiculous. With Sam it’s just important he looks after himself. He’s under so much pressure as the leader of the team and he does that week in, week out but he needs to look after his knee. This week he was running around like a goon again and chirping up in training so he’s obviously feeling better.

I’ll miss being at the Vale Resort.

Everything is set up to push you to get to the next level and that is something I have always strived to do. I don’t like being normal - average isn’t good enough. Our head of physical performance Adam Beard is good because he challenges me. When I started I was upside down, I was bottom-heavy - as in my legs were too heavy for my upper body. Now I’ve evened out and Beard has been key to that. In the gym yesterday we were doing bench presses and he tells me Alex Cuthbert did that for five reps and I was like, ‘Come on then, I’ll go again’.

I was so sorry to hear about the sad news of Merv’s passing on Friday.

We were told as a squad in the morning. He is a true Welsh legend and our thoughts are with his family and friends.

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George North: Grand Slam best day of my life

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What a day! That was probably the best day of my life - certainly the best day of my rugby career.

I believe we deserved that silverware and hopefully it’s just the start of something. The sun was shining in Wales on Sunday and everybody just seemed happier. Everyone was also wearing sunglasses because their eyes were sore...

On Saturday morning there was an extra edge in the air.

Everyone was trying to deny it but waking up on the morning of a Grand Slam game does feel different. Everyone was like, ‘Yeah I’m fine, just chilling out’, but most of the boys were buzzing. I certainly was: I woke up at a ridiculous time - 6.50am, and kick-off was not until 2.45pm.

Grand Slam: George lifts the 6 Nations trophy

For the bus ride into Cardiff one of the analysts had made a motivational video of all our best bits from the tournament. Cardiff was pounding even at midday. You should have seen the crowds. They were all going bonkers, I think everyone was already half-drunk. It was a hell of an atmosphere. It was the typical mad-Taff way, everyone getting behind us. It was brilliant.

As soon as we got to the stadium, it was head on, focus.

I got through the warm-up and thought, ‘I’m doing all right here, I’m not getting too emotional’, and then as soon as the anthem started playing it was like, ‘Here we go’. But as soon as kick-off comes you’re fine. You’re there, in the game.

I looked up when it was 79 minutes and 34 seconds on the clock and we were comfortable on the ball. I could see Rhys Priestland telling the forwards to slow it down and go one more time. I started running across the pitch - probably a little early. The sound when Rhys kicked the ball away was just immense. Unbelievable. Then we were jumping up and down together, chanting: ‘When I say Grand you say Slam!’ It was man-hugs galore.

High hopes: North jumps to pluck the ball from the sky

I will never forget the reception we got during the final lap.

Usually, quite a lot of people leave before that but you couldn’t see an empty seat. Everyone was screaming ‘Wales’ and you could see the excitement this one tournament can bring to a nation. As soon as that ball was kicked into touch there was such relief that we had achieved what we set out to achieve.

In the changing room Warren Gatland came round and shook hands and said well done to everyone, that this is where we want to be and now we have to keep it going. Gatland thanked us for all our hard work, the hours, training knee-deep in snow in Poland, dealing with the pressure of being favourites - it was all worth it.

Everyone got into their tuxedos and we had the post-match function.

It was at the Hilton, thanking the referees and the opposition. Then we had a function for family and friends where they come in and have a few drinks with us. After that a few boys could go into town and enjoy the nightlife if they wished...

Night on the town: Wales' players celebrated in Cardiff city centre

Cardiff was bouncing. I went into town for a quiet drink with a few of the boys and we had to leave sharpish. We were just trying to get a quiet drink. There’s that cliche about brothers in arms but it is true. After all the pain you go through with the  20-odd boys on the pitch, we are brothers in a way and it is nice to share it over a beer. My phone died too so my mates were trying to get hold of me and I couldn’t get hold of anyone.

I went for Sunday lunch at my girlfriend’s house but got a massive craving on the way and stopped at McDonald’s for a milkshake.

It’s nice to be able to do that. I start training with the Scarlets on Thursday morning so I’ll go home and see my mum and dad first. It’s important to get a bit of down time away from rugby. Just general slobbing out — go for a walk, sit on the sofa, have a cup of tea with a packet of biscuits...what more can you ask for?

A belated happy Mother’s Day to everyone - particularly my mum!

I also want to say thank you for all the support from the Welsh public and my sponsors. It has been so appreciated.

 George North is supporting RBS RugbyForce, the community rugby programme that is improving club facilities across the nation. To register your club for the RBS RugbyForce Weekend on June 2 and 3, visit: www.rbs.com/rugbyforce

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George North: How to get ready for the Aussies...

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The Australian press have been bigging us up ahead of the first Test. The TV advert that has been running in the build-up calls us the 'European champions' who are coming on to their turf. It's a bit over the top, but good marketing, good for ratings and it's quite funny. I guess we are European champions in a way, but in Wales we call it the Grand Slam!

We trained for the first week out here with just 16 players so we're sevens specialists now. With the rest of the squad staying in Cardiff for the Barbarians match, it was a case of going through patterns of play, set pieces, strike patterns. The jet lag has been a nightmare but we knew we had to head out here early as we have a job to do.

George North: Ready for action

For a couple of days we had the help of a local team called Brothers Rugby Club, who are top of their provincial division. They came to train against us and were a decent outfit with a few good players. The second day we even did full contact, every man for himself. They had a back who played fly-half on the first day then moved to the wing on the second. He had a step like Quade Cooper.

I'm sharing a room with fellow wingman Alex Cuthbert.

It's been sorted by positions on this trip. As soon as the first game comes it will all fly by - game, recovery, four days' training, repeat. I haven't even bothered to unpack, I just dip in when I need something. The World Cup was nine weeks but, with matches, recovery and four days' training, each week really does just seem to disappear. 

We didn't have any internet for the first few days. Everyone was trying to email friends and family but couldn't. It was $150 for five days' Wi-Fi at the hotel so the boys went off to the shops to buy a dongle. They seem to do the trick. I like Brisbane. On the first night we went to the restaurants on the river which are very nice but it costs about $50 for a small 8oz steak - and it doesn't even come with potatoes!

On the run: Jonathan Davies during training

We haven't been subjected to the cryotherapy capsule here yet but we have been using this man-made lagoon for our warmdown. It is a 20-minute walk from the hotel and it's freezing - I mean UK cold! We all jump in and stand in the water for five or 10 minutes. With the walk back as well, it makes for a good recovery session. 

The table tennis isn't going so well as Rhys Priestland is flying again. He beat me yesterday and Mike Phillips is playing well, too. The table is on an open balcony above the hotel lobby and you can hear the boys downstairs. Everyone is quite competitive, as you can imagine, and people at the reception keep looking up, thinking, 'What's going on here?'  

Warren Gatland has still left his mark on the squad. We have such a system in place that, if you drop a few people out and put a few people in, the machine still works. He's a big person to lose but I'm sure he still has his input even though he's not here physically. The boys have sent a few things across to him and, fingers crossed, his recovery is going well.

People keep asking me about the Lions but I'm honestly not thinking about it. I'm quite superstitious and I don't like talking about things that might not happen. If it happens, it happens; if it doesn't, I'll have to take that on the chin and work harder. But  I'm here and we need to knuckle down and win a Test series against Australia. 

I wasn't born the last time Wales won out here - I don't even think my parents were! It's a big ask, but we play for each other so we have a good shot at this. We've got a really good chance to take a scalp.

The Scotland match tells us nothing about the Wallabies. 

Will Genia was shivering during the second half, that's how bad the conditions were. We watched it to try to take some lessons from it but it was impossible.

It was sunnier in Brisbane. Shaun Edwards and a few of the guys went to the Suncorp Stadium to watch the Broncos play the Newcastle Knights in an NRL match. It's good to get an early peek at the stadium.

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George North: Just my luck, one carry, a double hit and a dead leg... it's agony

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I feel like I've spent my entire week in ice.

I've been using a gadget called 'game ready' which is an ice-compression machine. You put water and ice in it and strap it on to your quad. The water comes through a tube and the idea is that it compresses and ices the leg at the same time. From Saturday night to Tuesday night, I had to use it every two hours - that included setting my alarm for every two hours during the night. It's not fun when it's 2am or 4am and the phone alarm comes on, but you do whatever it takes.

Agony: George North hobbles off against Australia

The dead leg happened on the first contact of the tour.  We won a lineout off the kick-off and I took the ball up. If I had come in tight I'd have gone straight through but I took the ball on a wide angle and I ran into their centres. You can see the bruises where I caught a knee and a shoulder on my right quad - two for the price of one. After two-and-a-half months of rehab on my groin I was feeling great, too. Just my luck - first carry, dead leg! 

When you get a bad dead leg it balloons and swells immediately while you're playing. Usually you can run it off and then get some treatment in the changing rooms at half-time but this one was too bad. I was getting ball in space, which I've been craving all year, so it was gutting to come off. But there was no point hobbling around the pitch and not doing the job properly.

When I got back on the training pitch my legs were so stiff I felt like a giraffe running around. The stretching and rehab is all quite painful because you've really got to get deep into the muscle. Next comes the Compex machine which is an electric muscle stimulator I've also been using every three hours. You put little electric panels on your legs and it gets the muscle moving. The fluid is on my knee right now and I like to sleep on my side so when I wake up and straighten my leg it's agony.

Responsibility: North has helped out the kit man

While we were in Canberra this week we trained at the Australian Institute of Sport which is a really impressive facility. Using the pool and spa and the way it was all organised reminded me a bit of Poland. A few of us started getting flashbacks to those training camps - not good ones, either.

There is a casino next door to the hotel here but gambling isn't my thing. We are lucky enough to be in a position where we can afford to gamble a little bit of money here or there but my old man's a Yorkshireman and very much a believer in saving your money. He's given me that as one of his traits. Whatever you earn, you keep and you don't just throw it away on silly things.

I gave Harry Robinson a few lessons on the story behind the spoon. He has to carry it around the place as the youngest member of the tour and he didn't know much about it. He's only a year younger than me but it's nice to have someone else looking after it. As I'm sure you've heard, mine was stolen for three days at the World Cup and I've given him some tips on making sure that doesn't happen.

Last year I remember being the spoon-carrier and having to do laundry.  I got all the rubbish jobs like cleaning up the rooms. I'm not a senior player now or anything but I've got a bit more responsibility. I'm still a duty boy though, which means helping out the kit man when he needs a hand at training.

We are playing under a roof in Melbourne so it will be like being back in Cardiff. There was a league game played there the other day under the roof and apparently the players complained about losing the ball in the light with high kicks. I say just focus a bit more! It's been raining so having the roof is good - it means both sides can chuck the ball about a bit.

This is a must-win game but the World Cup showed we perform better as underdogs.  We relish it when people write us off. There's been a few changes up front and I think that experience can really help us. We are not used to the speed of game down here and we got caught out, but in the second half it was completely different. They are trying to finish the series off and we're trying to keep it alive. That's why it's going to be a really good game to play in.

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George North: The best part of our Polish adventure is when it's over

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On average in our Polish training camp we backs put on 5kg of lean muscle and lost four per cent of our body fat.

It meant we were allowed to eat whatever we wanted when we got home. The forwards have to be more careful! We got back on Friday and spent two days completely resting.

Boy, did we need it. I chilled with friends and family and just ate the whole weekend. It was nice to get some real food.

Putting the work in: George North tries to get past Lloyd Williams during training

When all life’s luxuries are taken away it’s the simple pleasures that keep you happy. You look forward to a protein bar with a line of peanut butter in it, and cracking your back out in the morning on a foam bar.

You don’t normally do five days that hard without a rest but we achieved what we set out to achieve and I feel like we’ve already been together for months. It’s not fun but you’re out there to do a job and you get that done.

My Poland highlight is always the last day. After the agony of the whole week, waking up every morning with your whole body hurting, at the end of it all you wake up with your bag half-packed and you know you’re going home.

It’s the utter relief when the final whistle goes at the end of the final session. We’ve got a cryotherapy coming to Wales — so the one good thing is we won’t have to return to Poland, although I bet we’ll still be sent to some deepest, darkest country.

Making a splash: George North during an early morning swimming session in Poland

Icrashed out on the bus to Warsaw, peaked in the airport after a coffee which always gets me bouncing, then as soon as I put on my headphones on the plane I was gone. I woke up in Heathrow, then fell asleep again on the bus to Cardiff!

There are only a couple of restaurants in Spala and one does the world’s biggest pizzas. On our afternoon off, five of us backs managed to finish three of them off between us.

I didn’t have any money so I went to the cashpoint beforehand and took out 100 zlotys, which is about 45 pounds. It turns out that’s the equivalent of about half a million in Poland — the pizzas only cost about four pounds! The pizza place was the  pick-me-up stop. It was phenomenal — you could even get Coke out the bottle.

When you’re new to the team you set yourself personal goals, but I think now it’s more of a team thing. The personal targets go into the background, now we have to stake a claim. We have to beat these teams at home.

Working hard: George North during weights training as he looks to put muscle on his body

Argentina are no pushovers at the start of four massive games. I’ve been chatting a bit with my Argentinian team-mate at Scarlets, Tomas Vallejos (below), and he says the Pumas feel like they are a better side for facing New Zealand, South Africa and Australia in the Rugby Championship.

It’s a massively tough tournament that only benefits them just by being in it. They had close games at Mendoza, in front of sell-out crowds, which gives them confidence.

Tavis Knoyle is what we call in Wales an absolute beauty. He’s come in at scrum-half and he’s a very positive chap. He works so hard and he’s been in great form for the Scarlets.

It’s been a long road for him to get here, missing the World Cup because of an operation, but you should have seen the smile on his face when he found out he’d got picked. Two half backs from the same team could be good for us too — they know each other inside out.

In the cold: George North comes out of the cryotherapy chamber

Players have qualms about how many games we are playing in a season. It’s a double-edged sword because games bring the funding, but I think as players we felt it was five or six games too many last season. Mentally we wanted it in Australia but physically we were let down.

The Australia tour was at the end of a big old block of work for us. I had five weeks off afterwards, which was beautiful — and needed. I came home and didn’t lift a dumbbell for three weeks.

Argentina come here in good form and are a very physical side in both forwards and backs. The backs run hard and they love an aerial battle, which is something we’ve worked on.  If they started kicking a lot I’ll just have to keep running backwards and forwards to cover the ground, which is always fun

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Six Nations 2013: Wales are excited to be back playing again - George North

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The boys are stoked to be back. Last year certainly brought its extreme highs and lows, and it has been a long wait to get here again.

Our biggest issue is being ambushed in the first 20 minutes because we’re not getting up to the speed of a Test match quickly enough. It happened first in Australia and then in the autumn. Once we do crank up the tempo, we’ve shown we can put the pressure on the best teams in the world. We have to find that gear in the first minute.

Our form may not suggest it, and everyone might be queuing up to write us off, but we are the defending Grand Slam champions. We’ve had our blows, and it has only brought us closer together.

Good to be back: George North is pleased to be back in action with the Wales squad

There is nothing we want more. People can talk about the Lions all they like, but for us as a team, it is only about the three feathers and the Six Nations. We’ve had two absolutely gruelling weeks of training so the boys are in tip-top physical condition.

There has been no trip to Poland, but that hasn’t made life any easier. With all the snow and cold here, it was like training in a cryotherapy chamber anyway. We’ve done everything we need to do to be ready.

Ireland versus Wales is always a meeting of two teams who want to play ambitious, running rugby and who share a similar philosophy. It will hopefully make it a spectacle.

It’s a funny old fixture list for us this campaign. We play the opening game at home in Cardiff and then we don’t play at the Millennium Stadium again until the last game six weeks later. In between, we play all the blue teams away from home.

Making their bow: Ireland have picked Simon Zebo and Craig Gilroy because of their good form

I’ve done it once before and it isn’t easy to win those games, but Paris, Edinburgh and Rome are fantastic places to play. Ireland have picked two wingers who have been on fire for their regions. Simon Zebo and Craig Gilroy do not yet have any Six Nations experience but have been picked for their fabulous form.

Brian O’Driscoll also returns to the back line. He is exceptional in attack and defensively he acts like an extra flanker.

It’s going to be a hell of a competition in that midfield, with Jamie Roberts and Jon Davies taking on Gordon D’Arcy and O’Driscoll — you’ll be able to hear the collisions from space.

Mark Jones has been a great addition to the Wales set-up as attack coach. I’ve trained with him at the region and he will be great for the back line. He has brought in new theory and opinion, and that fresh input can only help when you are trying to get every last percentage.

He has only recently retired so he knows the modern game inside out. In the autumn, we lost games because we lost the physical battle. That’s what the England team did against New Zealand — they were more physical at the breakdown and the world champions couldn’t cope.

Ready to go: Wales are looking forward to their Six Nations defence

Physicality has to be a minimum, then it comes down to doing your job clinically. If you’re not running a line in the move, you have to be doing something to help your team.

I’ve set myself two New Year resolutions. The first is to work to try to become a better all-round player. The second is to reply to more fans on Twitter. Everyone is aware there are a few to ignore on Twitter.

However, there are so many good people who get behind the team, and it means the world to us. Without their support, we’d be nowhere.

Ireland have many weapons and we’ve done our research. Their full back Rob Kearney has a monster left boot so they can turn defence into attack.

The Irish forwards always front up really well, and their strike power in attack is huge. We’ve got to defend, then try to give them a taste of their own medicine.

With Leigh Halfpenny talking about his claustrophobia this week, phobias have been on the agenda. I’m not scared of much … except moths. They freak me out, as the devil’s butterfly. It must be in the family blood — my sister is scared of them, too. Are you a butterfly or a spider? Make your mind up! They look absolutely disgusting.

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Welsh players take defeat the hardest - George North

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Trust me when I say this: nobody takes defeat harder than the boys themselves.The thousands of people in the stadium, the millions watching at home, nobody else sees the hours and hours we put in or the days where we cannot walk because we’re so stiff after training.

Our supporters share the good times and the bad, and they have been magnificent over the past 10 difficult months, but it hurts most  for us when we lose because we’ve had to go through the trenches to get there.

Come here: Rob Kearney of Ireland is tackled by George North of Wales - but his side lost 22-30

Sunday was a day of reflection and a day of licking the wounds. I was just with my girlfriend and my family, although sometimes you don’t need your mother asking you if you’re all right every two minutes! It was one of those days when I didn’t want to be pestered or looked after, just left to reflect on the Ireland match. But I also appreciate I’m very lucky to have that support when I need it.

Monday morning we were back at the Vale and there  is nowhere to hide during the video review. It may sound like ‘coaching speak’ but we had to take the positives out of it. We did come back at Ireland and speaking to the Irish boys after the game they were saying: ‘Bloody hell, you put us under a lot of pressure.’ They just tried to absorb it and we ran out of time, but we should never have let them get away with that start.

Analysis is good when you’re winning and playing well, but it takes twice as much effort and twice as much heart to get through when you are not playing your best. There’s no official protocol during the review but everyone has their own ways. Rob Howley leads it with some clips, but Neil Jenkins and Shaun Edwards will chip in, asking: ‘Why did you do that?’ and: ‘What made you select that option?’.

Rob’s a pretty straight talker, he tells us where we are and where we need to go from here. If you want to say something you stand up and say something.

Straight talker: Rob Howley will tell it like it is to get through to his players

I go over my tapes two or three times, the clips of every moment I was involved in the game, to see if I can see anything different, see where I can improve. Each individual has their own process. It has been a tough week physically and emotionally, getting that game out of your system and ready for a new one.

People have talked about our passing this week but it wasn’t a problem with passing, it was to do with communication and the depth of the support runners. It is something we constantly work on. We have not put a massive emphasis on it because it will take care of itself with the quality of players we’ve got. You’ll see that again this weekend.

The Stade de France is an enormous stadium, the French fortress. My strongest memory from playing there is the noise. Their fans make themselves heard for sure. But it doesn’t feel like a place you can’t go and win. We need to sort out our start, because with the French more than any other side, if you can dominate them and get up in their face you can beat them.

After the Italy defeat they are sure to have a bee in their bonnet, but a raging French side is always going to be fun to try to tame. If we can really get at them with our physicality, in the way we finished against Ireland, then it’s anyone’s game.

Raging: The French team will be furious after their defeat by Italy

If we can get that in order early, I’m pretty sure it will be stacked in our favour. The opening 20 minutes is something we are addressing, not just individually but as a squad. It has been identified as an issue so we’ve changed it in training and hopefully we’ll see the difference.

Mike Phillips plays in Bayonne so he has been teaching me a few wind-ups in French — nothing too rude, mind. But talking to the guys who play in France about these players is all well and good but all that matters is paying attention to what they do during the game.

A bit like Ireland, French wingers Wesley Fofana and Benjamin Fall are not physically big,  but the footwork and pace they’ve  got is something you cannot ignore.

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GEORGE NORTH: I've taken stick since my dad ran on pitch

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I have had endless stick from the boys after my dad ran on to the pitch in Paris when I scored. In fact, I've had a hammering.

Every morning when we meet for the first session, somebody asks if my dad is coming to training.

Then after every try in training somebody shouts: 'Look out for George's dad!'

Over the line: George North touches the ball down to score a try against France in Paris

Is that you, dad? North's proud father ran onto the pitch after his son's try

Endless stick: North says he has taken a 'hammering' from his Wales team-mates since his dad ran on

My parents are not going to Rome for the Italy game this weekend so it won't happen again. Our team manager Alan Phillips has a right-hand woman called Caroline Morgan.

She's lovely. She's like a mother to all the boys and sorts us out with anything we need. This week, I asked her to text my dad and tell him he's banned from the stadium. I don't think he took that very well, if I'm honest.

It is great to see Rob Howley with a smile on his face. It was phenomenal to get that win in Paris and it's amazing what one performance can do for morale.

The fact we'd stayed together made the feeling in the changing room afterwards so much sweeter and we celebrated just like we'd trained - as a team.

We've got the monkey off our back, we can stop talking about our bad run. The fact I scored the try didn't matter.

You're constantly scanning defences and talking to each other as a back line and it was a great kick by Dan Biggar that I managed to collect.

Guidance: Wales coach Rob Howley saw his team beat the French in their own back yard

I spent my time off this week watching my girlfriend Becky James compete at the World Track Cycling Championships on TV and trying to control my excitement for her.

I try to stay calm because I need to chill out between training sessions and prepare for Italy, but I can't help being emotionally attached.

When she won bronze with Vicky Williamson in the team sprint I was watching at home, screaming my head off.

I was worried Mrs Choi from next door would be annoyed but she wasn't! Becky managed another bronze yesterday in the 500metres time trial, so she has done amazingly well.

Proud: North spent his time off watching his girlfriend Becky James in the Track Cycling World Championships

Hats off: James (left) and Vicky Williamson celebrate Bronze in the team sprint

When Becky and I are together we try not to talk about training too much and just enjoy each other's company, but I know how hard she works so I want her to do well.

I'm also excited about playing at Rome's Stadio Olimpico for the first time.

It's a giant football stadium that hosted the 1990 World Cup final so it's another one to tick off the list of places I've played. I love these new experiences.

You have to realise it's still just the same field with two sets of posts like every pitch you play on, but it's a great experience, running out in a massive 80,000-seater ground, and I'll relish that.

Everybody who loses their place in the side works so hard to win it back. That's the environment we want to breed.

At the moment Justin Tipuric and Ryan Jones are just ahead of Sam Warburton and he will keep working to win it back.

Tick it off: North is excited to play at the iconic Stadio Olimpico in Rome

Fighting: Sam Warburton is battling to win his place in the Wales line-up back

We had a gruelling session on Monday and Sam pushed himself so hard he vomited up his lunch, and he wasn't the only one.

Nobody gets a shirt on anything but merit, you have to keep earning the right to wear it.

Sergio Parisse is Italy. I know that sounds weird but he is the man who carries the team and they will miss him hugely while he serves his ban.

But Italy now have the strength in depth that comes from the growth of the game in the country and from playing in the Celtic League. Italy love to scrum so it's a huge battle for the forwards.

We know we have to front up just like we did in Paris, so it's been another two weeks of tough training. You just hope all the pain will pay dividends.

When the backs do get the ball, we need to be more clinical but we're not a million miles away. Italy struggled to get going against Scotland at Murrayfield but at home they are a different beast.

Heart and soul: Italy will miss Sergio Parisse while the No 8 serves his ban

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