Wales star George North celebrated his return from injury after a year on the sidelines by helping Ospreys secure a thrilling eight-try victory over Scarlets in the United Rugby Championship.
The 30-year-old came off the bench in the first half having not played since April 2021 due to a knee injury that ruled him out of The British & Irish Lions’ tour of South Africa.
North also missed Wales’ autumn fixtures and the 2022 Guinness Six Nations campaign, with his previous appearance for Wales coming against France in March 2021.
But North came on as a replacement for Mat Protheroe just before half-time, slotting in at centre to become the latest high-profile Wales international to return from injury.
Gareth Anscombe, Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Lydiate and Dewi Lake have all been back in action in recent weeks, much to the delight of Ospreys boss Toby Booth.
“It’s great to see good players come through long-term injuries and get back performing well,” said Booth. “Gareth Anscombe is a great example.
“I said previously that he needed time and we’re starting to see a true reflection of him as a player. We could keep going. Those boys that have been absent for a year plus, for us, are big players.
“You can’t hide away from that. It provides opportunity for your other players to get valuable miles on the clock but ultimately there’s a reason that they’ve played 150 first-class games, 150 Test matches. They are what they are.
“It’s great when you’re trying to grow a group of players into being something.”
Booth admitted he had considered starting North but while he ultimately opted for caution, the Ospreys head coach was delighted with what he saw from the Wales utility back.
“Our hand was forced and we knew actually the advantage of having George at 13 means he’s going to get his hands on the ball a little bit more and we know he’s going to be a handful,” he said.
“We deliberated on starting him. He’s been out for a long time and it was my decision, which was thought around what is best for George and the team.
“If you’re starting, you’ve got that big lead-in time [thinking about] how it’s going to be. What if this happens? Sometimes it’s better to be just: ‘Right, you’re in, let’s go’.
“The good thing for us is we have more competition in the backline, which is great.”
Away from the United Rugby Championship, a number of internationals England, Wales and Scotland laid down a marker ahead of the upcoming summer tours in the Premiership.
Louis Rees-Zammit scored a brace and Chris Harris also dotted down as Gloucester Rugby romped to a 64-0 win over West Country rivals Bath Rugby at Kingsholm.
Rees-Zammit looked back to his very best for the Cherry & Whites, first dancing past Will Muir over the line before chasing down his own kick to touch down six minutes later.
Meanwhile, England international Max Malins ran in four tries as Saracens consolidated second place in the league with a comfortable 38-16 victory over Worcester Warriors.
His performance was hailed by Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall, who said: “Max is one of those players who make things happen and he makes a habit of scoring tries for us.”
Chris Ashton was also in the tries for Leicester Tigers, scoring the fastest hat-trick in the club’s history against Bristol Bears to become Premiership Rugby’s all-time leading try scorer.
Saturday’s three tries took Ashton to 95 tries, moving him clear of former Wasps and Tigers winger Tom Varndell on 92, while he also equalled the record for the most Premiership Rugby hat-tricks with five.