‘It’s a very different team now’ - Jonny May on England’s development ahead of Bok Test

Jonny May almost missed the Autumn Nations Series with an elbow injury

Ahead of Saturday afternoon’s game against the Springboks at Twickenham, England wing Jonny May says that this group of players is much different to the one that lost the Rugby World Cup Final in 2019.

Starting on the wing against the current World Cup holders this weekend, the 71-cap Gloucester flyer still holds memories of that game close. 

South Africa well and truly dominated England across the 80 minutes and reaped the rewards in the final quarter thanks to tries from Makazole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe.

Coming into this Test right off the back of a 25-25 draw with New Zealand, in which the All Blacks had the better of things for the majority, May says last weekend’s match gave him the closest feeling to the 32-12 loss to the Springboks three years ago.

“It’s hard to look past what they did to us in the scrum that day and the energy that gave them,” he said. “I was saying earlier, in terms of feeling under the pump with a team really on top of you, I hadn’t felt like that since the first half against the All Blacks, really.

“I thought they were outstanding. We were trying out best, we’d prepared well. What they were doing was just better than us and we didn’t really have an answer for it at that moment in time. All you can really do is stick in there.”

Would you say this England team is more resilient now?

“It’s a very different team now,” May said. “We’re trying to play a bit differently, trying to have more strings to our bow and have a bit more adaptability about our game.

“I’d say that if this team played the 2019 Springboks, we’d want to be able to say: ‘This isn’t working, we need to find a different way to win’. That’s what we’re working on.

“We want to have the traditional values of English rugby, but be a smart, adaptable team that can change the way we play to find an answer to the problem.”

Since making an early return from an elbow injury, May has played in two of England’s games this Autumn. His only absence was when making a return from that injury, the wing unincumbered with the loss to Argentina as a result.

Unable to breach the try line in the games against Japan and New Zealand, May and his teammates have perhaps their most difficult challenge of them all against South Africa.

On the whole, it has been a disappointing year for England. Floundering in the Six Nations, England would win a Test series in Australia, but even then Eddie Jones’ side have only won five games this calendar year and their final opportunity this weekend is a big one.

Even so, within the camp there is a belief that in spite of on-field results, there still has been growth. 

In May’s eyes, this can in part be seen in the 19-point comeback the team had in the final 10 minutes against New Zealand, although the question he was asked was to do with why England only managed to play such an expansive style with the odds stacked against them.

“There is an element of that,” May said. “There’s almost an element that in the last 10 minutes of the game there is going to be more fatigue, more space. They obviously had 14 men out there.

“There is a sense that when your chips are down – it was 25-6 – then all bets are off, almost. For some reason, it is easier to throw the kitchen sink when you are in that scenario. There’s a focus that comes on you because the game’s almost gone, or you could have one more shot at it.

“It almost liberates you. But it hasn’t come from nowhere. The shape we fell into is what we’ve tried to develop. The last 10 minutes wasn’t the something that the 2019 England team could do.

“It’s something we’ve been working on, and we want to tap into that when the opportunity arises. The All Blacks were very, very good in that first half.”

England starting XV: Freddie Steward; Tommy Freeman, Manu Tuilagi, Owen Farrell (C), Jonny May; Marcus Smith, Jack van Poortvliet; Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Jonny Hill, Alex Coles, Tom Curry, Billy Vunipola

Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ellis Genge, Will Stuart, David Ribbans, Sam Simmonds, Ben Youngs, Henry Slade, Jack Nowell