Irish aerial bombardment would make May’s day at the Aviva

Gloucester winger happy that his technique will stand up under the high ball

Rugby played high in the sky will suit England down to the ground. Send all box kicks and Garryowens into Jonny May's fly zone? The sprinter craves such attention. He fancies his chances against Keith Earls or Hugo Keenan.

“It is a huge part of Test match rugby,” said the Gloucester wing. “For me, the foundations of a Test match winger are your edge defence and high ball work. I need to be student of the game with regards those skills.”

This is an established narrative. Ireland became the box-kicking, Moneyball imitating, by the numbers team that climbed past all comers in 2018. Scaling such heights has a price. Humiliate the English on St Patrick's Day at your peril.

Come early February 2019 Eddie Jones had the punt and chaser tactics all figured out. The Irish pursuit of territorial gain, by devouring breaking ball, was cancelled by the simplest tactical shift. Static English bodies block the Irish runners.


Ireland called foul but the match officials only heard the moan of a physically dominated outfit. Ever since, the meaner and larger pack of English forwards have held sway over referees and results. Little has changed in three years. Ireland scrumhalves keep lofting balls for Earls to chase. England happily accept the terms of engagement.

“I always see it as a huge aerial contest against Ireland,” said May. “The Gaelic football background is something they pride themselves on. It is something they are very good at. You know the contest in the air is coming.”

May and Anthony Watson offer a superior athleticism to whatever backfield Andy Farrell settles upon this weekend.

“It is essentially just sharpening the sword,” May added. “I got my technique now. I want to get past the traffic first, keep my eye on the ball, jump off the outside leg, get good height, hit the ball at the top of my jump, be committed, focus on the ball.

“You hope the practice and hard work over time produces improvements.”

England are not without selection issues. With Manu Tuilagi on his latest recovery from snapped ligaments, Henry Slade brought a splash of attacking intellect to a midfield that has settled Owen Farrell at inside centre with George Ford picking the killer pass from outhalf.

Slade hurt his calf on Monday and should the Exeter centre fail to recover, Ollie Lawrence will endeavour to atone for his anonymous display during last month's defeat to Scotland at Twickenham. Also, if Max Malins is retained at fullback, despite some nervy moments against France, Johnny Sexton will have access to enough pressure points to expose England's inexperience, as all the evidence points to a high-flying birds type of affair.

“We got it all together for the France game by getting a performance and a win,” said May. “If we don’t back it up I am going to be devastated and so are the boys.”

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent