Rugby World Cup Exclusive: Jonny May - the flying English man

Jonny May has scored three tries on his way to the 2019 Rugby World Cup Final
Jonny May has scored three tries on his way to the 2019 Rugby World Cup Final

England's 2007 World Cup final winger Mark Cueto explains why England's current number 11 Jonny May could be the man to bring the World Cup back home.

After limping off in their famous semi-final victory over New Zealand, the good news for England in the build-up to the World Cup final is that Jonny May has resumed full training and if all goes to plan will be fit to face South Africa on Saturday.

That's one hurdle over for England and May, the big one is of course now beating the Springboks to claim the William Webb Ellis Trophy for a second time.

Mark Cueto knows just how tough that can be. The Premiership's second highest try scorer of all time, with 90, was England's left wing in the 2007 final, where South Africa ran out 15-6 victors.

Knowing a final can be defined by a moment of magic, he believes England's current left wing can be the man to deliver that winning play.

"He is the complete package and can do every element of the game exceptionally now. When you've got all that combined with the X factor of his gas then in a World Cup final he can be the big difference," explained Cueto.

England's Jonny May scores his first of two first half tries against Australia
England's Jonny May scores his first of two first half tries against Australia in the quarter-finals

"He is rapid, absolutely rapid. He is like [South African World Cup winner] Bryan Habana back in my day, who was a star in the 2007 World Cup. He doesn't just have the pace, he has the lightening acceleration off the mark and a bit of magic dust.

"On the whole, most quick players are as quick as each other at international level, no one can get a true extra yard on an opponent in a flat foot race. But May, like Habana, is one of those rare players that can do that, he just has that something extra to get passed an opponent in a tiny space because he has an extra burst from somewhere.

"He is electric. When you have that natural speed in you, you are always going to be a big threat on the field."

The Leicester Tigers back has already been hugely instrumental in England's progress to the Yokohama final, none more so than in his two-try performance in England's 40-16 quarter-final victory over the old enemy Australia.

Listen to our Rugby World Cup Final podcast with interviews from former England players
Podcast Listen to our Rugby World Cup Final podcast featuring England 2007 World Cup finalists Mark Cueto and George Chuter

In that match he showed everything. In attack, obviously incredible speed, but also great vision and communication to signal to his team-mates the exact moment to give him the ball for the best chance of scoring. He showed fantastic hands to take some difficult balls and top class finishing. In defence he was strong under the high ball and solid in the tackle.

The World Cup has showcased just how far May has progressed from strong domestic player to world class international star as he's gone on to earn 51 caps for his country, scoring 29 tries.

This was not something that looked likely after he finally made his England debut back in 2013. He was raw on the international scene and his naivety and lack of game intelligence at the very top of the sport was seriously lacking.

It meant very quickly his international future was questioned. He was dropped for the final two Tests against New Zealand in the 2014 Autumn internationals and managed just three appearances for the Red Rose in 2015.

Mark Cueto's 2007 World Cup final try was harshly ruled out by the TMO
Mark Cueto's 2007 World Cup final try was harshly ruled out by the TMO

Cueto explained: "He is one of the most improved players in this England squad. Of course every player has improved under [head coach] Eddie Jones, but Jonny was so raw when he first came into the team you thought he wouldn't last long at international level if he continued the same way.

"He had the pace but he lacked a lot of other things needed at international level. I remember being at Twickenham and watching him catch the ball on the left wing from a box kick and he crabbed across the field and actually got tackled out of play on the right wing and that's just a no-no. I remember thinking 'how can this happen at this level?'

"Fast forward to now - five years later - and his all round game is just at another level. His work rate, kick chase, defence, his kicking, his taking of the high ball, his working off his wing to get on the end of a ball is just excellent now."

May's determination to not become another of England's 'remember him?' men has now put him on the verge of being a world champion at the age of 29. Huge credit needs to be given to the winger for dismantling his game, starting again and coming back the complete package, not everyone has that determination or self awareness to take such tough actions.

In a final every player needs to be at his very best, take every moment, win every battle, and have no regrets. One percent off, one mistake, one second of switch-off, one tough call and your dream is over.

Cueto knows that more than most.

Faf de Klerk is a key player for South Africa in Saturday's Rugby World Cup final against England
READ: Final Insight: Mark Cueto's views on Sale colleague - the South African scrum-half Faf de Klerk

In the 2007 final he dove into the left corner to score a vital try for England in the early moments of the second half that you felt would have won the World Cup again.

The try was originally awarded, but then sent for review by the Television Match Official. As Cueto stretched to the line South African number eight Danie Rossouw tackled him into touch. TMO Stuart Dickinson had to determine whether Cueto was out of play before grounding the ball.

Minutes passed, replays watched again and again, it was so close and almost impossible to tell whether Cueto had already scored before then touching the ground out of play. Devastatingly, Dickinson ruled that the Sale Sharks' foot was in touch, the try was ruled out and England's new potential lead of 10-9 was reduced back to a 9-3 deficit. That was the match's turning point.

The general concuss now is that try should have stood, but that's international sports' cruelest and thinnest margins.

Gareth Jones previews the Rugby World Cup Final between England and South Africa
Gareth Jones previews the Rugby World Cup Final between England and South Africa

Cueto hopes the England team of 2019, against the same opponent, have better luck.

"Players like May have everything in their game now to take those moments. With the X-factor he has he was born for games like this.

"Unlike in his early international days, you are 100 percent confident now he will do the right things in these big matches, not make a mistake, and take those big chances.

"He has made a career out of scoring tries out of nothing, through finishing chances no one else could, and that is exactly what a World Cup final comes down to."

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