Jonny May is set to earn his 50th cap for England against Australia at the weekend but the circumstances could not be more different to when he made his first appearance.
May had travelled with the England squad on their tour of Argentina in 2013 during which time the British & Irish Lions were touring Australia. Having been left out of the squad for their opening game, May had all but given up hope of winning his first international cap.
However, when Christian Wade was called up to the Lions tour, an innocent dinner with his parents, who had travelled over in the hope of seeing their son in action, ensured he was the only possible replacement for Stuart Lancaster’s side.
“So my first cap I’ll always remember because it didn’t really go how I’d have thought”, he recalled during Wednesday’s press conference.
“It was Argentina 2013 and I can’t really remember the numbers but we picked 14 backs or something in the squad and I was looking around, it was Lions year and I thought, ‘I’m probably going to get a game’, it was one of those tournaments where you were going to get a go and one player maybe won’t get a game.
“So my mum and dad came out and I wasn’t picked for the first game, then I wasn’t picked for the second game and I just felt… I didn’t feel ashamed but I didn’t feel great because my parents were out there and it looked like I wasn’t going to get a game.
“But then funnily enough Christian Wade got called up for the Lions on the morning of the game and, basically, because my mum and dad were out, I went out for dinner with them and all the other non-23 players went out on the piss, so I got the ‘go on you can play’ pretty much.
“It’s funny how it works out and I ended up starting that game, and then it’s just what was probably quite a challenging couple of weeks finished on a real good note as my parents got to watch me play and I got my first cap, it all worked out in the end.”
Forty-nine caps on, the Leicester Tigers man admits he has changed “a lot” as a player. He is playing in his second World Cup and has experience of beating some of the top nations in rugby.
Yet this weekend’s quarter-final showdown with Australia will be one of the biggest tests of his career and he knows he must raise the bar once again.
“You do change. I’ve changed a lot, not just as a rugby player but as a person as well along the journey.
“It is chaotic really and challenging to do. You’re under pressure, the pressure you put yourself under, not just here but every week.
“Those other players have been around and every week I’ve had to play my best so it has been challenging and tough but I’m grateful for that because it has made me the player that I am now and I’m proud of the player I’ve become and it has taken a lot of hard work.
“I’m sitting here now, I’ve got goosebumps because I’m so excited to go out there this weekend and try to raise the bar and stick to what I’ve done every week. When you get to 50 caps you can say that the hard work does pay off when it’s something consistent like that. So it’s something that I’m proud of.”
May maintains that hitting 50 caps for England is not just an honour, but a “great achievement”.
“If you take a step back, you’d say it’s an awesome achievement, something I’m very proud of and hopefully I’ve made my family proud. Every time I’ve played for England it’s been an honour, to do it 50 times is a great achievement.
“But it’s no time to take a step back at the moment, it’s a huge team game at the weekend. It’s about the team, so I’ll just be focusing on what I can contribute to that team performance as best I can and prepare and play no different to how I do every week.”