England star Jonny May opens up on the ‘mental torment’ of the COVID-disrupted Australia tour

Jonny May has opened up about his ordeal Down Under, on an England tour ruined by Covid. Summing it up, he said: ‘Really, my trip was two training sessions and a lot of mental torment.’

After missing a large chunk of last season with a knee injury, the 32-year-old Gloucester wing had recovered in time to be selected by Eddie Jones for the three-Test series against Australia. But he didn’t play and spent much of the time on his own. His account of the episode is a reminder of how the global pandemic continues to have a disruptive impact.

England arrived in Perth in late June and May struggled with jetlag on the first night. Then it went from bad to worse. ‘I travelled out and caught Covid,’ he said. ‘I went down to the physio room in the morning with the agenda of saying, ‘Doc, I can’t train today, I am knackered’. The doc said, ‘I’ll Covid test you’. So I took my lateral flow, went back to my room and had seven days in isolation.

Jonny May missed out on England's tour of Australia after contracting COVID

Jonny May missed out on England’s tour of Australia after contracting COVID

‘I was pretty sick. I started getting a bit hot. My jet lag protocol went out the window. I fell asleep at 6pm and didn’t wake up till 2.30pm the next day, with the doc banging my door down because he thought I might be dying.

‘I lost 6kg and was pretty ill. The thing that was really weird was the knee I had just come back from swelled up like a balloon, got really red and hot. I couldn’t see anyone so I was texting the physios from my room, saying, ‘My knee’s a bit sore and they were like, ‘Yeah, yeah, it’ll be fine, it is stiff from the flight’. But whatever day I got out, they said, ‘Let’s just go for a little run’. I could barely run, my knee was that sore.’

May’s stint in quarantine involved a tricky relocation process, as England moved from an initial base outside Perth, into the city. He had to be transferred carefully.

‘It was all a bit of a blur,’ he said. ‘I got put in some van with this ultra-mask on, driven across town, around the back of a hotel, up this lift that looked like it is used for laundry or a food cart – it’s not a human lift – up to the top floor, and that was me up there on my own for seven days. The closest I got to the lads was when they went to the State of Origin (rugby league), I was watching and saw them on the telly.’

May explained that England coach Eddie Jones supported him throughout the ordeal

May explained that England coach Eddie Jones supported him throughout the ordeal

The Gloucester wing used his time in quarantine to take inspiration from NFL star Tom Brady

The Gloucester wing used his time in quarantine to take inspiration from NFL star Tom Brady

The screen was on a lot that week. Instead of preparing for a series opener at the nearby Optus Stadium, May was staving off boredom. ‘I watched quite a lot of AFL – Aussie Rules Football,’ he said. ‘They have a whole channel for it, so I watched a fair bit of that. I watched all of Stranger Things, series 4. That was brilliant.

‘I watched Tom Brady on Disney – Man in the Arena. What I took from that is how he always has an influence on his team-mates. In the back of my head I was thinking, ‘If I get out of my room, just have a good influence. Do what you can. I’m not in the best position to contribute on the pitch, so just try to help in other ways’.’

May joked that he felt like Mr Burns – a character from The Simpsons – ‘all weak and tired’, but encouraged by Jones, he strove to regain sufficient fitness and sharpness to come into consideration for selection.

He certainly wasn’t dejected when he was left out of the match-day squad. ‘When Eddie announced the team on the Monday on the last week and I wasn’t in it, I was actually quite relieved,’ he said. ‘I would have given it a go, but I didn’t feel up to it, to be honest.’

Despite May's absence, England prevailed in the three-Test tour Down Under

Despite May’s absence, England prevailed in the three-Test tour Down Under

He took satisfaction from helping the rookie back-three players in the revamped tour squad and has high hopes for two of them in particular – London Irish pair Henry Arundell and Will Joseph. ‘They’re talented players – Henry and JJ (Jonathan Joseph)’s brother,’ he said. ‘I roomed with him during the BaaBaas week, and he literally looks like JJ, walks like JJ, runs like JJ.

‘These guys are good players. It’s exciting. We’ve seen a lot of young guys come in and run around, but Will Joseph and Henry Arundell are my pick of the bunch. They’re talented and I can see them getting lots of caps for England.’

For his part, May still wants more caps and the World Cup – a year away – is still a target. ‘You have those things in the back of your head,’ he said. But for now, being fit and able to play for Gloucester is his over-riding objective. 

‘My thoughts now are just get healthy, be healthy and play some rugby,’ he added. ‘I haven’t been this excited to play for a long time. I’ve done so many rehab sessions, running on my own, sitting in my hotel room, I just want to play now.’

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