LONDON (Reuters) - England could be unleashing the fastest back three they have ever fielded when they meet Australia at Twickenham on Saturday, spearheaded by an eccentric speedster whose captain hails him as “unbelievable.”
Jonny May is a rare character of world rugby, once hailed affectionately by a team mate as a “space cadet with a serious x factor” and so quirky that England coach Eddie Jones even mused how he would love to spend a day inside his head.
Yet just as appealing to his colleagues is that the comical May, when not poring over his colouring books or diving haplessly into rucks as a makeshift flanker, may also just be the fastest winger in world rugby — and he is getting quicker.
So, along with Elliot Daly on the other flank and fullback Anthony Watson, hailed by Jones this week as being “like a Maserati”, this jet-heeled trio could help dispel the negativity surrounding the scruffy win over Argentina last Saturday.
“Maybe,” pondered May, when asked if, following a reshuffle necessitated by fullback Mike Brown’s concussion, this might be the fastest back three ever assembled for England.
“Elliot is a fast guy as well, he’s got some wheels and we know Tone is quick. It’s an exciting back three but we’ll miss Brownie.
“I’m sure he’ll be back in next week but it gives us an opportunity for Anthony to have a go at fullback and that excites us as well.”
May in full cry is perhaps the most exciting prospect of all, though, for the Twickenham crowd left rather underwhelmed by the prosaic nature of the 21-8 win over the Pumas.
“Jonny’s fast. Jonny’s real fast. The way Jonny prepares is unbelievable, he’s a 24/7 athlete,” said England captain Dylan Hartley.
“Everything he does is to make sure he’s the fastest winger in the world or whatever he wants. He’s unbelievable.”
Even May himself, in the form of his life after 10 tries in nine games for his new club Leicester Tigers since his summer move from Gloucester, cannot credit just how fast he is after missing last weekend’s international with a hamstring tweak.
Since returning to training after his “frustrating” break, he was “gobsmacked” to jump higher than ever before and record his fastest ever top speed of 10.49 metres per second in tests over 40 metres.
“I’m still getting quicker and more powerful,” explained the 27-year-old, who was once helped to hone his speed by Britain’s 2004 Olympic 4x100 metres relay champion Marlon Devonish.
“It’s crazy how much quicker the game has got but that’s the same every year. Everyone is getting stronger and faster and that’s the approach I want to take. I just look at ways of getting faster and more powerful.”
He does not need to find ways of becoming more eccentric. Asked why he preferred wearing the winger’s number 11 jersey rather than the 14, he shrugged: “I prefer odd numbers to even numbers. I just like all the odd numbers really.”
English rugby loves its lightning odd number too.
Reporting by Ian Chadband; Editing by Christian Radnedge