May proves a big hit on long-delayed Test debut

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The Independent Online

Tom May is not the first England Test player to be blooded at the home of Manchester United football club. In fact, Richard Cockerill very nearly drew some of the red stuff as he lined up for his first start for his country at Old Trafford, back in November 1997. Quite what possessed the cocky young hooker to give Norm Hewitt some in-your-face treatment as his opposite number performed the haka only Cockerill could say. Certainly, one of his Leicester team-mates was far from impressed. "What the fuck have you done?" Martin Johnson enquired, after the referee had separated the bullet-headed new boy and the far- from-amused Hewitt. "Raised the collective All Black dander," Cockerill might well have replied. England were subjected to a 25-8 beating.

May cut a markedly more restrained figure as he lined up for his Test debut yesterday. There was just a swift glance across to his opposite number, Miguel Avramovic, a former Worcester Warrior now playing for Montauban. Then it was into the action for the 30-year-old new boy. Well, into 14 minutes of watching Andy Goode take on Juan Martin Hernandez at his kicking game, before some attacking possession found its way to the inside-centre. He made good use of it, swerving past a couple of Pumas before being halted by a big lock, Manuel Carizza.

May's day has been so long in coming that he could have been excused for fearing it would never dawn. Twelve years ago he played in the same England schools side as Jonny Wilkinson, and he then progressed to play for the Under-21s, the A team and the Sevens squad. While the other bright young things at Newcastle made a mark in the senior England team – first Wilkinson, then Jamie Noon and subsequently Mathew Tait and Toby Flood – the back of all trades looked like becoming the Falcons' fifth Beatle, as the years rolled by and he found himself shifted from position to position by his club.

Then he was moved from full-back to fly-half, midway through a Premiership home game against Gloucester in January. It proved a masterstroke on the part of Steve Bates, Newcastle's director of rugby. May not only gave the Falcons the direction they needed to win the match and start to save their fluttering season; he also gave his career the momentum that has earned him a Test start and a move to Toulon next season, alongside Wilkinson and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, Argentina's captain yesterday.

Lobbe had promised to greet his future team-mate with a smash but the hit of the day came from May – a walloping tackle that sent Juan Manuel Leguizamon staggering backwards as the flanker went for the line in Argentina's most promising attack of the first half. Jonny Whatsisname would have been proud of it. It was the kind of tackle that has become a trademark for him since he made his England bow as a teenager.

As for England's 30-year-old Jonny-Come-Lately, he made a favourable enough impression all round – save one less than memorable moment when he almost found the front row of the South Stand in his eagerness to whip out a long pass to Mark Cueto.

Sadly, there was no try-scoring contribution to match the one May had made as a second-half replacement in the non-cap game against the Barbarians at Twickenham last week. There might well have been, had Matt Banahan managed to find him with a wild pass in front of the Stretford End midway through the second half. Still, when he made way for Sam Vesty with seven minutes to go there was applause all round for England's No 12 in the theatre of his lifelong dream.