Eddie Jones is backing Jonny May to replace Rory Underwood as England’s most lethal finisher after declaring the best is yet to come from the Gloucester wing.
May struck twice in Saturday’s 18-7 Autumn Nations Cup victory over Ireland with a glorious second that swept him almost the length of the field in one of the greatest tries witnessed at Twickenham.
It propelled the 30-year-old to joint second alongside Ben Cohen and Will Greenwood in England’s all-time list on 31 with only Underwood’s milestone of 49 left to chase down.
May has a similar strike rate to his predecessor in the number 11 jersey of around a try in every two games and Jones applauds a special talent.
“I don’t see why he can’t reach that total. He’s only going to get better and better. I think he’s going to be at his best when he’s about 32, 33,” England’s head coach said.
“He’s 30 now so there’s no reason why he can’t keep scoring tries and being one of our most important players.
“He’s an incredible rugby player. What I’ve seen in that boy in the time I’ve been lucky enough to coach him has been outstanding.
“I’ve never seen a more professional player. He continues to get better, he gets faster, stronger, more elusive and his work off the ball is exceptional. He’s always looking for ways to get quicker.
“Maybe when he was a bit younger he used to get a bit despondent when he didn’t score tries, now he knows that his role is much bigger than that.
“While tries are obviously cherished, they aren’t the things that dictate whether you’ve had a good game or not.”
May’s footwork, pace and vision made his wonder try possible, but it all began when Ireland’s wayward line-out throw was scooped up by Maro Itoje and threaded along the backline where it reached England’s most electric runner.
Transitioning from defence to attack is a skill that has been honed during training sessions after Jones met with Liverpool FC analyst Ian Graham to mine the Premier League champions for information on how best to work off the ball.
“Transitional parts are so important,” said Jones, who is currently reading ‘Believe Us’, a book about Jurgen Klopp’s success at Anfield.
“It’s a pretty exciting area for us and it’s pleasing to see that try where we shifted the ball quickly to the outside and then it was a leg race. There are not too many people in the world who can beat Jonny in a leg race.
“Liverpool, and I think most football sides, are very advanced in being able to measure the movement of the players off the ball.
“If you look at any stats that you get, they are only concerned with information on the ball, but movement off the ball is crucial to what we do when we transition.
“So we’re starting to get some measurements. We’re in nursery school now whereas Liverpool are doing their PhD at Oxford.
“It’s really just creating games in training. What we want the players to do there is what is obvious, but it’s their race to get in position which is really important.”
Next up for England is their final Group A game against Wales in Llanelli on Saturday with victory guaranteeing a place in the final, most likely against France.
“Wales…it’s their one game of the year. I was listening to the Stereophonics’ ‘As long as we beat the English’. It symbolises how important their game against England is,” he said.
“They are playing at the heart and soul of Welsh rugby, at the Llanelli home ground, where they had some of the greatest victories in Welsh rugby. We know they are going to be a completely different animal.”