Six Nations: England’s Jonny May happy living in land of the giants for Italy test

England's Jonny May scores his side's second try of the game against France last month. Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA
England's Jonny May scores his side's second try of the game against France last month. Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA
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IT WOULD be understandable if Jonny May felt a little out of place for England against Italy today.

This is not to say he is not good enough to warrant a spot in Eddie Jones’s side; the brilliant and prolific Leicester Tigers winger firmly established himself as an international force some time ago and scored a first-half hat-trick against France just last month.

However, he may look like the odd man out when returning to Twickenham this afternoon and glancing across England’s backline for this Six Nations tussle.

This is because Jones has named the biggest set of three-quarters in recent memory, bringing in 18-and-a-half stone Bath winger Joe Cokanasiga and 16-and-a-half stone Worcester Warriors centre Ben Te’o.

Add in the considerable 17-plus stone frame of Manu Tuilagi, who has switched from inside to outside centre after the defeat to Wales in Cardiff, and it becomes obvious what England’s game plan will entail.

Given the diminutive May weighs in at just over 14 stone, all scampering pace and energy, he was asked if he may feel “undernourished” when surrounded in such a land of giants?

“Erm…no, it’s exciting isn’t it,” he insisted, elegant centre Henry Slade dropping to the bench and 5ft 9ins winger Jack Nowell (shoulder) injured after England’s Grand Slam hopes were shattered in South Wales a fortnight ago.

“Luckily enough we’ve got so much strength and depth, and the way we all see it now in this squad is that it’s a squad effort.

“Eddie picks a team each week, what he wants to do and how he wants to play, and how he thinks we’re going to win the game.

“And this week he’s gone with that and it’s nothing against anybody who is not involved.

England's Joe Cokanasiga. Picture: Paul Harding/PA

England's Joe Cokanasiga. Picture: Paul Harding/PA

“We always see it as a squad role and that is brilliant to be a part of, because it’s not selfish and it is really a team-first attitude.

“So we don’t ever really know what the team is until very, very late, so no matter what we’re doing we’re doing what is best for the team, and supporting whoever gets picked.”

The only thing that could have threatened May’s place was the concussion – ironically after clashing with Tuilagi – that saw him depart during the second-half onslaught in Cardiff.

“There’s only one winner when you collide with Manu,” he reflected.

We don’t ever really know what the team is until very, very late, so no matter what we’re doing, we’re doing what is best for the team, and supporting whoever gets picked.

England’s Jonny May

“I did get a rattle, but I got up and felt that I could continue.

“I didn’t actually want to come off. I felt like I could carry on, but the system is there to protect us.

“I failed the HIA so I stayed off. I got the words wrong. 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 and get out there quickly.

“He was looking at me a bit funny. I think I was miles off. It was more my mistake. (But) I went through the protocols, passed it all, and was fine by the end of last week.”

Fijian-born Cokanasiga wins only his fourth cap, but the powerful 21-year-old excites May, who feels he could develop into one of the best players in the world.

He said: “Of course he could. He is very gifted athletically, and is a huge bloke. He is strong, very, very fast – so he has got the world at his feet. He is a great guy too.

“For a winger that athletic ability is huge. Then on top of that you’ve just got to build your smartness and game-understanding and he is continuing to do that. He’s earned his opportunity and I am pretty sure he is going to have a pretty decent game.”

England, of course, have never fallen to Italy in 24 meetings and the maligned Azzurri have lost their last 20 Six Nations matches.

They did, however, lead Ireland at half-time in their most recent match before losing 26-16.

England’s tactics, meanwhile, came unstuck in Cardiff and they did not adapt quickly enough, ultimately perishing 21-13 late on.

If Italy manage to stop their imposing juggernauts will the Red Rose have another way of delivering the win needed to keep their title hopes alive?

“Look back to two years ago when they did the ruck thing,” said May, referring to when Italy led at half-time at Twickenham after controversially refusing to initiate rucks, causing chaos in the bemused England ranks.

“We didn’t adapt very well then – (but) this group has matured and learned.

“We have a brilliant leadership group and brilliant coaches. The game is always going to test you.

“Against Wales we failed that test, but we have passed some tests recently as well.

“No matter what Italy present to us there are going to be ways around it and it’s up to us to find that way on the pitch.”