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17th May 2022

“You become very selfish” – A fascinating insight into Lions team selection

Patrick McCarry

George North

“It’s one of those evils that you have to go through.”

George North has been in the room, on two British & Irish Lions tours, when the nitty-gritty of team selection, promotions and axing players has been meted out.

One of the most compelling parts of the Lions’ ‘Uncovered’ documentary, back in 2017 after the New Zealand tour, came when cameras captured the moment Peter O’Mahony was named captain for the First Test.

From the outside, looking in, one might expect a reaction of unbridled joy or just sheer relief. Instead, the cameras focused on O’Mahony as he stared ahead before dropping his gaze to the floor. The greatest honour of his career and O’Mahony looked as if he had been told a family pet had expired.

“That’s it,” O’Mahony would later observe, “you certainly can’t be celebrating. There’s guys in the room who have done a huge amount of work and as much work as the guys who have been lucky enough to get into the 23.

“There’s a respect there and a few minutes there when it might be a bit of a surprise for guys. It’s a lot to take in but you’ve got to go then and train and train well because there’s only two or three sessions before you go and take the field. It’s a small window where you take a little bit in but you move on. There’s a job to be done.”

George North was in the room, on that team announcement day, and he reflects on what he believes is one of the most intense, and strangest, moments of big game weeks.

A composite image of George North, British & Irish Lions, intercepting the tackle of Israel Folau, Australia on the 2013 tour. (Credit: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE)

George North on “intense” team announcements

Having starred on the 2013 Lions Tour to Australia, George North was back scrapping for a Test squad spot in 2017. He made three appearances on the tour and says the squad announcement days were as full-on they ever were with Wales.

“It is quite intense,” he tells us. “And it’s a weird environment, because you know you’ve got time to really process that information before the end of the week, and when that game comes. Come selection day, everyone is on edge. That’s probably the right way.

“It’s a bit like waiting for Christmas Day. Everyone wants to know what’s going on. You’re excited, but you’re a bit nervous. And then, very quickly, you have to deal with a whole range of emotions. If you’re picked and you’re playing – if you’re starting – you know you have to get your roles right. Your mind switches to, ‘Right, this is my job, this is my position. What’s needed of me. How do I get to that level?’

“If you’re on the bench, you potentially have to cover a few positions. So, you’re trying to get information about these positions and what you may need to do, with injuries and what-have-you. If you’re not picked at all, it’s having to deal with the disappointment and then process that, quickly, with trying to help the team best prepare for the weekend.

“On team announcement day, it is intense. It’s a whole range of emotions and it’s not just ‘YES!’, if you’re picked. There’s a whole lot to deal with.”

George North

‘You become very selfish’

What makes it tougher, on a Lions tour, is that players must be mindful of not celebrating of emphatising too much with national teammates when players from what are usual rival nationals are in the room.

George North, who only recently made a comeback after a long-term injury that cost him a place on the 2021 Lions Tour, gave a fascinating insight into how players jump to game focus once teams are named.

“In that one split-second when you’re waiting for your name to come – the number and name you want – you become very selfish. You’re like, ‘Well, I want to play. This is what I’ve given all my hard efforts for, for years’.

“You’re like, ‘I want that jersey. I’ve worked hard for it’. And when it goes your way, you get the honour of pulling on that jersey, to go out and play for your club, country or the Lions. And, when you don’t get that jersey, you’re working out how best to get in it.

“And, in that same breath, you want the boys to go well, who are in the jersey, because you’re one team. So, from that point of view, selection day is a tough one but it’s one of those evils that you have to go through.”

George North

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