Warren Gatland tells George North Wales will 'look after him' amid Northampton row

George North did not feature for Northampton last weekend despite being released by Wales. Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Warren Gatland says Welsh rugby will "look after" George North if his Northampton career ends early.

The Wales wing's Saints contract expires at the end of this season, after which he will move back to Wales on a national dual contract.

North's selection to face Six Nations opponents Italy this weekend comes four days on from him missing Northampton's Aviva Premiership game against Sale Sharks, after which interim Saints boss Alan Gaffney suggested the British & Irish Lion, 25, had not wanted to play for his club.

North had been released by Wales as it was a Six Nations fallow week, but he did not feature for Northampton amid reports he had an arrangement with former Saints rugby director Jim Mallinder that he would not play club rugby on rest weekends.

Gatland said: "The message I have said to George is, if he wants to come home quicker than next season we will look after him."

Speaking to reporters at Wales' training base on Wednesday, head coach Gatland said North suffered a hip-flexor injury during the 37-27 defeat against Ireland 11 days ago, and was treated by Wales' medical staff before returning to Northampton the Sunday before last.

"We are here for him," Gatland said. "He knows if he isn't comfortable in that environment, we will support him and the Union (Welsh Rugby Union) will support him 100 percent for whatever happens with him.

"I understand from Northampton's perspective, they are under their own pressure in terms of trying to get things back on track.

"George has given a huge amount of commitment to them in the first place by leaving Wales to go up there. He has enjoyed his time there, I know. It's a great club with fantastic facilities.

"He has always talked hugely positively about his time up there and just how great the club and fans have been."

Gatland was asked if he felt Gaffney had unfairly singled out North. And the Wales boss added: "Coaches do their own thing. I don't have any problem with that. I can't comment on the Northampton situation.

"I just know that George North picked up a slight hip-flexor injury against Ireland when he came on.

"That was treated by our medical staff, and we communicated that to Northampton. He went back up there and was treated by their medical team.

"So I understand when we sent him back, he had a slight injury. What happened after that I'm not too sure.

"He is OK now, which is why he has been selected [against Italy]."