ORh, but Jonny May scored a wonderful try, one of the best anyone has seen here in years. It was a sprint from one end of the field to the other, the kind you dream of scoring when you’re a little kid with a head full of crazy ideas. He had everything but a crowd to cheer him on.
And what a pity, because it would have been a tonic for all who saw it. It was one of those moments that makes you fall in love with the game again. That is, unless you were cheering for Ireland. It happened in the 20th minute and it all went down so fast that you had to watch the replays to understand exactly how he pulled it off.
In the silence of the empty field, England forwards could be heard harassing Irish hooker Rónan Kelleher, a 22-year-old playing his fifth round. “Pressure on Kelleher here,” they yelled as Ireland advanced downfield in search of a lineout. “Pressure at launch”.
They were right, Kelleher made a complete mess of it. The ball flew over Peter O’Mahony. Maro Itoje was the first to do it and passed it on to Ollie Lawrence, who passed it on to Henry Slade, who once again passed it on to May, the length of the field in front of him and an opportunity that only he could see.
May took three steps forward, heading toward Chris Farrell’s inner shoulder. Then she crossed over and glided past him on the outside. Space. He stuttered, shifted into a higher gear and reached away from the chasing man, Bundee Aki, who lunged sadly at his ankle.
May’s mind was racing now as fast as her feet. Looking up, he decided the best way forward was to kick the box. Without breaking stride, he dropped the ball and kicked it deep into the Irish half. That put him in a direct race against Irish scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park, who is fast, but nothing like fast enough. May inexorably pulled away from him as well, then kicked the ball again with the outside of her left foot, sending it bouncing behind the try line. He spun his run to follow the bounce, grabbed it and touched it with a meter of room to spare.
Behind him, half a dozen Irishmen were left prone as he passed.
May had been in a somewhat sterile career. He hadn’t scored since England’s first game of the year, against France in Paris. Since then he had passed five Tests without getting another, his longest streak since he was seven without scoring at the start of his international career. Here, he got two in five minutes.
The former was also a beauty, in its own way. England had an advantage after an attacking lineout, and Owen Farrell sent a speculative cross kick to the far end. Ireland’s young defender Hugo Keenan was right at the right moment and the ball flew over his fingers towards May, leaping up behind him. Keith Earls couldn’t stop May from sliding over the test line.
However, May stopped Earls, saving a certain attempt a little later in the middle. Earls had made a cunning little run on his own, a frame cut past Elliot Daly and the test line was wide open in front of him. May caught up with him just in time to drag him a meter off the line.
It was his 30th and 31st attempts for England, putting him in second place on England’s all-time list, alongside Will Greenwood and Ben Cohen. He will soon surpass them and remain alone as England’s top scorer in the professional era.
He smelled another when he got clearance on Ireland 22, landed like a cat and fired past Earls and O’Mahony again, but this time he collided with Aki, who crushed him.
Even if he had, he would still be far behind Rory Underwood, mind, whose record of 49 in 85 games becomes more and more remarkable with age.
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