Jonny May is poised to win his 50th cap for England recalling the missed drinking session that created the opportunity for his debut six years ago.
May will start Saturday’s World Cup quarter-final against Australia on the left wing armed with a strike rate of a try in every two games, his total of 25 touchdowns making him the nation’s sixth highest scorer.
As England’s most lethal finisher – a status earned over the last 18 months but a product of years of hard work – he will spearhead the assault on the Wallabies at Oita Stadium.
The 29-year-old wing’s Test debut was always a question of when, not if, but 49 caps later he enters the biggest match of his career revealing the chain of events that presented his chance.
“I’ll always remember my first cap because it didn’t come how I’d have thought it would,” May said.
“It was Argentina in 2013 and I can’t really remember the numbers but we picked 14 backs or something. I was looking around, it was Lions year and I thought, ‘I’m probably going to get a game’.
“My mum and dad came out and I wasn’t picked for the first game, then I wasn’t picked for the second game.
“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 play.
“But then funnily enough Christian Wade got called up for the Lions on the morning of the second game and, because my mum and dad were out, I had gone out for dinner with them while 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 as I ended up starting that game and what was probably quite a challenging couple of weeks finished on a really good note as my parents got to watch me play and I got my first cap. It all worked out in the end.”
May takes pride from having forged a path amid numerous hurdles, not least the inauspicious start to his Test career that included completing his first seven games without crossing, not helped by his tendency to crab sideways across the pitch.
A serious knee injury sustained in 2016 was successfully overcome with no reduction to his blistering speed, which is now matched by a fuller range of skills including a heightened sense for the try-line.
And throughout it all he has been forced to fight off a number of rivals in a position of strength for England.
“I wouldn’t change any of it and that’s what I’m proud of – I wouldn’t say I’ve cut a corner, I’ve just stuck to it, every day,” May said.
“I’ve had injuries, I’ve been picked, I’ve not been picked, I’ve had terrible games and good times as well. That’s how it’s got to be – the same every week in terms of striving to get better.
“I came into this set-up with Jack Nowell, Anthony Watson, Elliot Daly and Mike Brown. It really has been a challenge. You have to fight to be a part of the squad, let alone to start.
“You do change over the years. I’ve changed a lot, not just as a rugby player but as a person as well. 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.
“I’m sitting here now and I’ve got goosebumps because I’m so excited to go out there this weekend and try 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 and that’s something that I’m proud of.”