GEORGE North has shocked the rugby world by announcing Saturday's clash with Italy will be his last cap with Wales.

The 120-time capped back, who lives in Goytre in Monmoutshire with Abergavenny Olympic cyclist wife Becky James and their young family, was left out of the match day squad to face France last Saturday.

And despute being recalled for this Saturday's Six nations match, 31-year-old North surprised everyone by announcing he would be bowing out with a final appearance at Cardiff.

“It’s not been an easy decision for me, although it feels like the right time and it’s the best thing for me and my family,” admitted the Osprey, who helped Abergavenny RFC in their 2019 Bowl-winning cup run and is moving to France to play club rugby at the end of the season.

“I’ve been very fortunate to live a dream not many people get to do. And to be able to do it at home in front of a sold-out stadium with my family around me seems like the best way for me to start my next chapter.

“I didn’t think this day would come – I wished this day would never come. It was a real head and heart conversation that bounced back and forward a number of times.

“It’s about me being able to go out on my terms and being able to enjoy it, like I have for every second of the last 14 years. I’m going to use this week and Saturday to really take it all in and to live my dream again one more time.”

North burst onto the international stage as a teenager when he scored two tries on his debut playing against Bryan Habana in a game against the world champion Springboks.

Since then he has gone on to win two Grand Slams (2012, 2019), picked up two more Six Nations titles (2013, 2021), and reached two World Cup semi-finals (2011, 2019).

He will leave having overtaken Shane Williams as the highest Welsh scorer in the Six Nations with 23 tries and needs only three more on Saturday to match Brian O’Driscoll’s tournament high of 26.

“It has always been about me being the best I can be for Wales and wearing the three feathers on my chest. I would hate to put on the jersey and not do it justice,” he added.

“I’m still doing that now and it has been a hell of a run to get here. While there is pride in putting the jersey on, hopefully there is pride in leaving it in a better place for the next guy.

“I’ve loved every second of it and cherished every second of it – the highs and the lows. And there have been plenty of them.

“The people I’ve met, the friendships I’ve made, the coaches and team-mates I’ve met. I couldn’t have written it better myself to be honest.”

But while he would love a fairytale ending to his career with a win to avoid a first Wales whitewash in the Six Nations since 2003, he doesn’t want the game to turn into a homage to him.

When Italy last came to Cardiff in 2022, they upset the party for Dan Biggar’s 100th and Alun Wyn Jones’ 150th caps.

“When I spoke to the squad, I said let’s not get weird, I asked them for nothing to change from what we always do. We go toe-to-toe and work as hard as we can to get better each day,” said North.

“It’s a must-win game and the focus should never be on one individual. We’ve got to keep doing what’s worked well for us and we’ve got to deliver the 80-minute performance we know we’re capable of.

Since scoring twice on his debut, North has gone on to score 47 times for Wales and twice for the Lions. Try number 50 in a win over Italy would surely be the perfect send-off.

Next season he will be plying his trade in France, so how would he like to be remembered at home?

“I hope people will think of me as a Test animal, someone who would never give in, would give everything, and left nothing out there. Half decent would be nice,” he said.

Wales coach Warren Gatland paid tribute to North, saying: "George has contributed hugely to Welsh rugby, in an incredible career starting as an 18-year-old.

"The way that he burst onto the scene. I can remember seeing him play and thinking we need to cap this kid.

"He's been incredible as a rugby player, but I think the most important thing is how he's contributed to the squad as a person over the years. How positive and encouraging he's been within and around the group, things that people wouldn't have seen in terms of what he's organised off the field.

"George has been outstanding and a credit to himself. He can definitely hold his head high. He and his family and friends can be very proud of everything he has achieved.

"I look forward to watching George play at Principality Stadium one final time in a red jersey on Saturday and I hope everyone will join me in celebrating him. Diolch George."