Johnson finally hands May his day with England

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The Independent Online

Ten years ago Tom May, Jonny Wilkinson and Jamie Noon were regarded as three of the brightest hopes in English rugby and looked set for long careers at the top of the game.

While Wilkinson and Noon's progress has been well documented, May disappeared from view. But yesterday he received a belated shot at the big time when the England coach, Martin Johnson, ended the Newcastle utility back's interminable wait by naming at inside-centre in the team for the first Test against Argentina at Old Trafford on Saturday.

While Wilkinson earned 70 caps and Noon 38, May has spent that time fighting for recognition. Having played for England A in Argentina in 2002 and then appearing briefly in Clive Woodward's training squad in 2003, he fell out of the England reckoning. But now, thanks to Johnson, May is no longer a possible. At 30, he is a certainty.

"I have always had playing for England as one of my goals," said May, who will join up with Wilkinson at Toulon next season. "To have achieved it finally is really fantastic. My dad had a bit of a blub on the phone."

As for having taken so much time to win his first cap, he explained: "I went off the radar a bit. Perhaps the ability I have had to play in different positions contributed to that. I'd have preferred to have nailed down one position and stuck with that. I've tried to steer away from the 'Mr Versatile' tag, but it has stayed with me over the past couple of years. Having played the whole of the last half of this season for Newcastle at fly-half has really helped me," he added. "I was able to grab a game by the scruff of the neck and try to put my influence on it."

May, who began life at inside-centre, finds his career has come full circle. "It is pretty strange because I am back where I started. And it is my preferred position."

May is one of three debutants, the others being a Newcastle team-mate, the talented tight-head prop David Wilson, and the Bath winger Matt Banahan. Johnson has made five changes from the team which lost to the Barbarians last weekend, with Mark Cueto and Dan Hipkiss joining May in the backs and James Haskell and Steffon Armitage coming in for Lewis Moody and Chris Robshaw in the back row.

Meanwhile, the England coach insisted that there was no drugs culture in the professional game. "You can never be complacent about those things but in my experience there is not a widespread drug problem in rugby," Johnson said. "For instance, today at 5.50am I got a call in my hotel bedroom. One of our guys who was on 24 hours' notice was seen by a tester. The players are very aware of that, not just as a deterrent, but our guys realise what they're throwing away if they get involved in it."

England XV to play Argentina (Old Trafford, Saturday, kick-off 4pm)

D Armitage (London Irish); M Cueto (Sale), D Hipkiss (Leicester), T May (Newcastle), M Banahan (Bath); A Goode (Brive), D Care (Harlequins); T Payne (Wasps), D Hartley (Northampton), D Wilson (Newcastle), S Borthwick (Saracens, capt), L Deacon (Leicester), J Haskell (Wasps), S Armitage (London Irish), N Easter (Harlequins).

Replacements: S Thompson (Brive), J White (Leicester), B Kay (Leicester), J Crane (Leicester), P Hodgson (London Irish), S Vesty (Leicester), M Tait (Sale).