North set to play centre for Wales against France

Wales power wing George North is set for an unfamiliar midfield role when the champions look to get their faltering Six Nations campaign back on track against France in Cardiff on Friday.

The Lions star was moved to the centres when Scott Williams suffered a shoulder injury during Wales’ crushing 26-3 loss to Ireland in Dublin last time out.

Williams remains out of action while Wales and Lions centre Jonathan Davies won’t play against ‘Les Bleus’ after suffering a pectoral muscle injury against South Africa in November which has sidelined him from international action ever since.

Equally, Ashley Beck is not deemed to be fully fit following a hip injury.

The talented James Hook, primarily a fly-half, could be slotted in to midfield alongside Jamie Roberts.

But the Perpignan playmaker’s failure to nail down a spot in Wales coach Warren Gatland’s team speaks eloquently of his frustrations at Test level and North does at least have recent midfield experience.

The giant flyer may have started all his 37 Wales Tests on the wing but he did play at centre when his club, Northampton, enjoyed a European Cup win over Leinster in Dublin two months ago.

Wales assistant coach Robin McBryde admitted Monday that their midfield options were a “bit thin”, adding: “Someone has got to run there (centre), and those decisions will be made later in the week.

“Jon Davies is not going to be available for the match against France. There is a possibility he will play for the Scarlets next week to give him some game-time.

“With regards to Ashley Beck, Ashley trained with us last week and played for the Ospreys yesterday (Sunday). Having said that, he feels he is not quite ready for the step up to international intensity. He wouldn’t be doing himself any justice, so in conjunction with the Ospreys, we are working closely with Ashley with regards to that.

“I think he has been pretty honest with himself, and said that he wouldn’t do himself justice.”

Gatland is due to name his team to play France on Wednesday and, despite the Ireland match representing Wales’ heaviest Six Nations defeat since 2006, the New Zealander is not expected to make huge changes.

Wales captain Sam Warburton has been tipped to move to openside flanker so Justin Tipuric can start on the blindside, while fit-again lock Luke Charteris could return in place of Andrew Coombs.

McBryde was clear on where Wales had to improve against a France side bidding for a Grand Slam following home wins over both England and Italy.

“When you lose, especially in the manner we did against Ireland, one thing it does is it points you in the direction of the areas to work on,” he said.

“Attacking-wise, we need to improve our quality of (line-out) service and our delivery, and make sure we are all on the same page, and defensively in terms of the line-out shore up the weaknesses that were exposed against Ireland.”

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