'Rollercoaster' summer gives May hope for England at World Cup

Jonny May put England 8-0 up with a ninth-minute try in the last warm-up game, but Fiji came back to win 30-22 at Twickenham (Ian Kington)
Jonny May put England 8-0 up with a ninth-minute try in the last warm-up game, but Fiji came back to win 30-22 at Twickenham (Ian Kington)

Jonny May has had what he calls a "rollercoaster" summer but the veteran winger is praying that the World Cup can provide one more thrilling ride, not just for him but for a misfiring England team.

May's summer began with the high of the birth of his first child and appeared to end with the low of being told he was not going to make the World Cup squad.

Then came another high, albeit at the expense of one of his teammates, when he was brought into the squad to replace Anthony Watson who injured a calf.

"I'm gutted for Anthony, it's a cruel game," said May at England's World Cup training base in Le Touquet.

"Cruel because you might not get picked and because you can get hurt."

May, 33, started for England as they reached the final of the last World Cup in Japan in 2019 but had slipped down England's backs hierarchy.

He was not picked for England's first two warm-up games and after eight weeks was called in by England coach Steve Borthwick and told he would not play in the third game or make the final squad.

"My son Jackson was born in the middle of the off-season which was amazing because I had two weeks of no schedule.

"But then, to go away from home and you're not going (to France)... So I've missed all that time with him and I'm not going and no game. It was really dark."

After Borthwick broke the news of his omission, "I reacted angrily but rationally," May said.

"I didn't scream or swear. I went to the gym for 10 minutes and then stomped back to him. I said 'Why am I here? I've got my son at home'.

"He said he didn't want me to go home because I am next in, and it doesn't look good if you quit now and have to be called back in.

"I thought: 'Fair enough, that's a good point and I've done this much time. Just calm down and plough on'."

- 'Underdogs' -

May started England's last warm-up game against Fiji, scoring his 35th England try, but his first since November 2021, as he collected his 73rd cap.

It should have been a happy day for him but England lost for the first time ever against the Fijians, making it five defeats in their last six games.

With captain Owen Farrell suspended for the first two matches and number eight Billy Vunipola also banned for the opener against Argentina, many critics have already consigned England's chances to the bin.

May, however, is confident that Borthwick's team will suprise a few people.

"There is still a lot of hope within this group and optimism and belief knowing the quality we've got and knowing that, although people will either say you're this brilliant or that bad, if we get the performance we want outside noise will realise quite quickly we're not as bad as everyone says," May said.

For all the confident words, there is no escaping that England have slipped to eighth in the world rankings and a group of Argentina, Samoa, and Japan as well as Chile, that once looked manageable, now appears more awkward.

"We're definitely underdogs. We're still finding our way, still finding our team. We're still discovering ourselves."

May, who says he is "as fast as I was in 2015", believes England have set out for the World Cup ready for a fresh start.

"I even wrote in my little notebook 'It's a new chapter' and then turned over to a nice clean page. We fly out to France now. New scenery. New Challenge."

England kick off against Argentina in Marseille on Sunday.