• England wing is keeping ahead of chasing pack
• May inspired by Olympic champion English Gardner
While Jonny May acknowledges a 100-metre sprint between the world’s fastest wings is a fanciful if fascinating idea, it is a safe bet the England international would make the podium if it ever were to happen.
For they do not come much quicker than May, who last autumn revealed he set a new personal best of 10.49 metres per second in a 40m speed test – faster than Usain Bolt’s average speed when he set his 100m world record. Indeed, after the third Test in South Africa, Danny Cipriani went as far as to say that no other wing in the world would have reached his crossfield kick for the decisive try.
That signed off a prosperous tour for May, one of the few shining lights of a disappointing series for England, but he has never been someone for whom sitting still comes easily and his need for speed remains unsated. So much so that he spent two weeks of the off-season fine-tuning his sprinting skills at Michael Johnson’s performance centre in Texas. The 28-year-old May even rubbed shoulders with the USA sprinter English Gardner, a 2016 Olympic champion who overcame the same knee injury May suffered at the end of 2015. At the time he feared he would lose a yard of pace but, searching the internet for sportspeople who had returned from similar injuries, he discovered Gardner’s road to recovery.
“It was awesome for me to meet her because when I did my knee two years ago, the surgeon said it was touch and go whether I’d come back at the same speed,” said May. “People say you lose 5% after an ACL [injury]. I was trawling through the internet to find people who have had the same injury. English Gardner blew her knee out just before she went to college, she had all her scholarships taken away and now she’s one of the fastest women in the world. She definitely inspired me.”
May part-funded the 10,000-mile trip himself, just a few weeks after returning from South Africa, squeezing a quick golfing trip to Spain with his former housemate and fellow Leicester Tiger George Ford in between. “It’s perfect for what I want to do,” he added. “The primary focus is on speed training so lots of agility, plyometrics, acceleration, top-end speed. America don’t mess around with sports. At Pennyhill Park you think ‘wow, that’s amazing’, but over there it goes even further.”
May scored tries in each of the three Tests against the Springboks to take his 2018 tally to seven in eight but if ever there was a reminder of the competition for places as an England winger, Chris Ashton’s return to the squad last weekend was surely it. “I was happy with how I played, but what you see at the weekend is the product of a plan,” said May. “I want to get smarter and faster and that’s the product of years of working. I feel that over time I’ve gradually been getting better and played the best rugby I’ve ever played out in South Africa and ran fast as well.
“We’d never be in the circumstance to have a 100m race between the fastest players in world rugby, so all you can do is compete against yourself. I’m confident of where my speed is at.”