Jonny May: England Rugby's Flyer or Its Liability?

Daniel Rey@@ReyDanielMFeatured ColumnistFebruary 17, 2015

Jonny May tries to get past Italy's Luke McLean at Twickenham on Saturday
Jonny May tries to get past Italy's Luke McLean at Twickenham on SaturdayAlastair Grant/Associated Press

Jonny May is one of the fastest wingers ever to pull on an England shirt. May’s try against New Zealand in the autumn internationals, when he flew past Conrad Smith and Israel Dagg, was one of the best individual scores seen at Twickenham. But is May worth his England place? Does raw speed atone for deficiencies, or maybe liabilities, elsewhere in his game?

England coach Stuart Lancaster asks a lot of his wingers: They need to be all-round modern players, able to kick and catch as well as run. The catapulting of Anthony Watson into the England fold is based on the Bath man’s complete game but also because he is an elusive runner. To use a phrase that has been rapidly gaining popularity, he covers the basics, and Watson’s feet are his “point of difference.”

On the left wing, May’s “point of difference” is his speed: He is regarded by The Rugby Blog as “easily the quickest player England have had available for some time.” But May has been given an easy time of it in other areas: His defence, kicking and claiming of the high ball are not up to standard.

Lancaster wasn’t willing to countenance Christian Wade on the England wing because of his perceived fallibilities in those departments, but Wade is stronger than May across the board. And Wade side-steps rather than running sideways.

Against Wales, May conceded a needless penalty on the half-way line that gave Leigh Halfpenny an easy three points just minutes into the game. He then got his defensive alignment all wrong for Rhys Webb’s try.

Then, against Italy at Twickenham on Saturday, May also had a very mixed game to say the least. It was a performance that confirmed the analysis above.

On 35 minutes, after Ben Youngs’ break, the ball fell to May on the England right with a clear overlap. May, as is his custom, drifted rather than running straight, and the chance was lost. Then, on 43 minutes, with England in a good attacking position in the Italian 22, May attempted a kick that went spectacularly wrong and England came away with no points to show for their efforts.

His defence was also weak, particularly for Luca Morisi's second try (see video below). Morisi is not a powerful No. 8 running at him in close quarters, but a normal-sized back. It was tackling straight out the Chris Ashton school. 

To atone, May flew past two defenders to provide the try for Danny Cipriani. May’s searing pace on the outside was combined with a deft pass to send the replacement fly-half under the posts.

This in a nutshell is May: hugely frustrating, sometimes breathtaking.

England have shown considerable faith in Jonny May. A tryless 2014 Six Nations was followed by an ineffectual tour to New Zealand, before that try against the All Blacks at Twickenham bought him some time. Buoyed by it, he had a confident autumn series. Now the cracks have reappeared. The statistics don't make happy reading: May has only three tries in 13 appearances for England.

No other player, with the possible exception of Owen Farrell in November, has been given such support by Lancaster. May’s fellow wide man, Semesa Rokoduguni, had the opposite treatment. Injured mid-way through the first half against New Zealand, he was subsequently unceremoniously discarded by the England management.

May’s place should come under serious scrutiny soon, not least because he is very unlikely to fit the all-round winger model Lancaster favours. May is a flyer, but, arguably more importantly, he’s also a liability.  

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