Wales would support George North’s early return according to Warren Gatland

Wales head coach Warren Gatland has said the Welsh Rugby Union will offer George North support if he decides to leave his club, Northampton Saints, ahead of the off-season.

The giant wing is set to move back to Wales on a national dual contract next season. North – who starts on the wing against Italy on Sunday – was left out for Saints’ loss to Sale at the weekend.

After that match, Saints director of rugby Alan Gaffney was asked by BBC Northampton why North did not feature. Gaffney responded: “You’d better ask George that. We picked a side who actually wanted to be out on the pitch and the best side for the game.”

Related: Wales team to face Italy

Wales announced their squad today and Gatland took the opportunity to say: “The message I have said to George is if he wants to come home quicker than next season, we will look after him.”

Pressed on whether he thought a quicker return was actually on the cards, Gatland replied: “I’ve just said, we’re here for him. He is comfortable in our environment and we’ll support him and the union will support him 100% whatever happens to him.”

George North's early return

Try time: George North scores for Saints against London Irish

Wales have made ten changes to their team following the loss to Ireland in round three of the Six Nations. It is North’s first start for Wales since the Six Nations loss to France in March last year. He has not scored a Test try since his brace against Ireland in last year’s competition.

Talking further on North, Gatland said: “I think he is just focused on getting on the field and starting on (Sunday) and then looking to get back to Northampton.

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

Related: Shane Williams tries sumo wrestling

“George has given a huge amount of commitment to them in the first place by leaving Wales to go up there and he’s enjoyed his time up there.

George North's early return

Man management: Warren Gatland is looking out for his player

“It’s a great club and I know any conversations I’ve had with George he’s always talked hugely positively about his time at Northampton and just how great the club’s been and the fans have been.”

Asked by BBC Northampton today on whether North was done as a Saint, Saints stand-in head coach Alan Dickens said: “That’s a pretty direct question. That’s a question I can’t really answer. George is contracted to the club and when he comes back we’ll need to talk.”