John Bentley hails George North as the best finisher in Europe

Former Lions winger John Bentley is convinced Wales' George North is the best finisher in Europe

Sportsbeat
By Sportsbeat
john bentley
SSE ambassador John Bentley

john bentley

Legendary Lions winger John Bentley is convinced North Walian George North is the best finisher in Europe and has backed the giant Wales international to shine Down Under in 2013.

North, 19, was part of Wales’ Grand Slam-winning team this season, with his performances for club and country in particular making him a certainty for the British and Irish Lions squad for the tour of Australia next year.

Bentley – part of the last victorious Lions tour in South Africa in 1997 – got his fingers burned while wearing the England jersey in Australia at the hands of infamous winger David Campese.

But the 45-year-old, who scored one of the great ever tries in Lions history when he ran the length of the field in 1997 against Gauteng, insists no such humbling awaits North against the Aussies.

The 6ft 4in Scarlet was one of the stars of show as Wales reached the World Cup semi-final last year and Bentley expects North’s star to burn even brighter as 2013 approaches.

“He is the best winger in Europe at the moment – he’s absolute quality,” said Bentley. “He is head and shoulders above any other wing for a starting spot with the Lions next summer – he’s that good and can destroy any defence on his day.

“It’s worrying for other teams that he seems to still be getting better and better – he’s going to be one hell of a weapon in Australia – he’s going to be a guaranteed starter for the Lions.

“For a big lad George North’s got great core skill. His one-handed offload against Ireland in the Six Nations was a mightily hard fingertip skill to pull off for a giant. When you’re going to the deck like George was, that’s skill.

“It’s something a lot of coaches will say not to bother with, just maintain possession and keep the pressure on but George North is a special player and the same rules don’t apply.

“But that kind of offload and intensity has been promoted and worked on by him and Wales. That was one of the best tries of the championship.

“Look at that Welsh set of backs in general. Look at the set of them; I am sure they could all play in the forwards, except Rhys Priestland.

“Only Priestland should be playing in the backs. They are massive and it makes such a big difference – it’s something the Lions will want to replicate.

“I went to Australia a boy and came back a man. I played against the best player I’ve ever played against, David Campese, and he tore me to bits.

“I had to pick a fight with him just to distract him from the rugby. The thing about the Australians is that they’re not scared of saying they want to win, they’ve no shame in doing that.

“Australia may be the toughest test of them all but I know George North has the quality to leave his mark in Australia.”

North wasn’t the only member of the Welsh back three that caught the eye of Bentley. Blues wing Alex Cuthbert trampled all over the shadow of Wales legend Shane Williams on his way to racking up three tries in the Grand Slam win.

And Bentley believes the Blues youngster is in a great position to enhance his reputation on the way – even if there might be some bumps in the road en route.

“It will be very competitive for someone new like Cuthbert and he’s just got to do his stuff, the games about playing,” said Bentley.

“And he’s had a great Six Nations. He may make mistakes against Australia but people make mistakes. Who cares about mistakes, they’re not important.

“What is important is what you do before and after you’ve made them. It’s difficult to see how the Wales duo won’t be starting in the red of the Lions as well as the red of Wales over the next 12 months.”

John Bentley is an ambassador for SSE Rugby, supporting community rugby clubs in England. Register now on www.sserugby.com to start benefiting from the support and resources on offer, and the chance to win £10,000 of free SSE energy credits for your club

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