It is impossible to think of a good time for sport to be stopped in its tracks upon the outbreak of a global pandemic, but the timing of the coronavirus crisis played into the hands of England’s most potent try-scorer Jonny May.
Heading into March, May was in a bad spot: he had no club sorted for the 2020/21 season, had broken his cheekbone playing for Leicester and was, by all accounts, exhausted following a gruelling 18-month stretch either side of the Rugby World Cup.
“To have the opportunity to just take a pause and reflect, refresh and reset, it came at a brilliant time for me,” he reflects, having turned the negative of being locked down amidst the horrors of the last six months into a positive outlook.
“The lockdown actually came at a good time for me, if I had to pick a stage of my career where I could do with a bit of break from the game, a bit of a chance to reset both physically and mentally. I actually broke my cheek anyway so I was out for eight weeks – and I hadn’t sorted out my contract so I didn’t know where my future was.”
With rugby on hold until August, May was able to focus on allowing his body to recover and negotiate a move away from Leicester. Welford Road had been productive for the 30-year-old in terms of helping to develop him into one of the leading wings in world rugby, but Welford Road was not a happy hunting ground in the final months of his contract and he was determined to find a way out. Lucky for him, former club Gloucester came calling to secure a move back to Kingsholm, and with his future resolved and cheek fully healed, May got back to doing what he does best.
The 56-cap England wing is a creature of habit, a man praised by his head coach for his methodical routine that has helped him to a healthy 23 international tries in 37 games since Eddie Jones took charge.
“I turned that into a positive, and I knew in that time where there was not much going on things will start again at some point and when it does it’s going to be pretty crazy in terms of the intensity and amount of rugby we’re going to have to play,” May said. “So I just made sure every day that I was doing everything I could to make sure that when we get going again I’m as fresh and resilient and ready as I possibly can be, and I’ve got that energy where I really want to play all the time, and that’s how I’m feeling at the moment.
“I certainly made the most of it, and I was also lucky in that nobody in my family got ill or any friends. I had a garden, I could exercise, I could still live my life and have my routine, and routine is very important to me. That suits me perfectly, I can control my environment and do my training and get lost in my process, so I managed to deal with it in a good way I guess.”
We put a lot of hard work in, prepared as well as we could and then obviously the news came – I was gutted
While the pandemic did not disrupt May’s religious training routine, it has still cost him the final club match of the season. He was due to play in Gloucester’s season finale against Northampton Saints, one of two games that was cancelled this week following the Covid-19 outbreak at Sale Sharks as 27 members of the club returned positive tests.
“I was gutted,” May admits. Never one to let an opportunity to train let slip, he hopes that the preparations to face Northampton will be credit in the bank ahead of England’s upcoming internationals, which begins with a tune-up against the Barbarians in a fortnight before the the Six Nations showdown against Italy and their four-match Autumn Nations Cup programme.
“I mean we prepared to play up until we finished the team run on Saturday,” May said. “We put a lot of hard work in, prepared as well as we could and then obviously the news came – I was gutted.
“I’ll be honest, it was a real shame. You put the whole week’s work in for it to be called off and it is a shame, but it is what it is. That’s it really: it was gutting, I wanted to play, it was a shame we couldn’t finish the season. The prep was lost … but it wasn’t wasted hopefully because you train to get better and we made some progress last week, but it was a shame not to be able to put it into a game.”
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