By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) – Jonny May will line up on the wing for England against Italy on Saturday hoping to add to his tally of four tries in the first three games of the Six Nations but hoping the match pans out better than the last one both for the team and for him.
May’s involvement in the 21-13 defeat by Wales two weeks ago ended after 69 minutes when he was left flat out on the Cardiff turf, his arms and legs flailing in what initially appeared to be the worrying spasms sometimes displayed when players are knocked unconscious.
May eventually got back to his feet but, after a couple of groggy minutes, the medics intervened and he was taken off to undergo a Head Injury Assessment (HIA), which he failed, automatically ending his participation.
Whether the scientists who developed the test will be concerned by May’s laughing confession that he tried to “cheat the system” or pleased that he was not able to is not known, but he was happy to laugh at himself and his inept efforts.
“I wasn’t unconscious or anything, you’re trying to refocus and I felt like I could carry on but the system’s there to protect us,” he told reporters on the eve of Saturday’s Twickenham clash.
The HIA works by testing all the players pre-season to establish a baseline score on a series of cognitive and memory tasks, which is then measured against their performance in the immediate aftermath of a head injury.
“I got the words wrong,” May said. “It’s funny. All the HIAs I’ve done in the past have the list of words, like candle, paper, sugar, wagon, finger, lemon.
“I think I was reeling off words from previous tests that I’d remembered to try to get out there quickly. But the tester was looking at me a bit funny – I think I was miles off.”
Adding insult to injury was the fact that it was a collision with team mate Manu Tuilagi that left him on the turf. “Manu got me and there’s only one winner when you collide with Manu,” May said.
Having passed the subsequent protocols May starts again on Saturday, with Tuilagi linking with Ben Te’o in a massive midfield and with giant Joe Cokanasiga starting on the other wing in place of the injured Jack Nowell.
“It’s exciting isn’t it,” he said of England’s heaviest-ever backline. “Luckily we’ve got so much strength in depth and Eddie (Jones) picks a team each week, what he wants to do and how he wants to play, and this week he’s gone with that.”
PLENTY OF PACE
Big or small, however, the one thing that every coach yearns for is pace, and in May Jones has it in spades.
Always one of the fastest players in the game, he has worked hard in the last two years to focus that speed in the right direction and has cut out much of the lateral running that marked his early international appearances.
His aerial work has also developed and he was outstanding in the opening game against Ireland, when he also put England on the board with a try after two minutes.
But it was in the 44-8 demolition of France where he really shone, scoring a superb hat-trick in the opening half-hour where his speed, footwork, anticipation and finishing marked him as a player of true world class.
Like most professional sportsmen, however, May has already wiped it from his mind.
“Honestly I had to move on from it pretty quickly,” he said. “One day I will look back and that was a special day, to score a hat-trick at Twickenham – of course it is. But you can’t dwell on things.
“You can’t stand still here, you’ve got to keep getting better. I take confidence from it, it was an awesome day, but all of a sudden we go away to Wales and lose that one. That was disappointing, but we have moved on again and now it’s Italy.”
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Christian Radnedge)