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Jonny May backs ‘genius’ Steve Borthwick to crack the code of rugby with England

England went out on their shields in Saturday’s World Cup semi-final defeat by South Africa, losing 16-15 to a late Handre Pollard penalty.

Duncan Bech
Monday 23 October 2023 13:31 BST
Steve Borthwick devised a statistics-based approach that almost dethroned the world champions (Mike Egerton/PA)
Steve Borthwick devised a statistics-based approach that almost dethroned the world champions (Mike Egerton/PA) (PA Wire)

Jonny May is backing Steve Borthwick to crack the code of rugby after describing England’s head coach as a “genius” in the mold of Alan Turing and Mr Spock.

England went out on their shields in Saturday’s World Cup semi-final defeat by South Africa, losing 16-15 to a late Handre Pollard penalty, having dominated the reigning champions until the final quarter.

A heroic performance was the culmination of Borthwick’s opening 10 months in charge, having been parachuted in with the short-term objective of making the team competitive at France 2023.

He succeeded by devising a statistics-based approach that almost dethroned the world champions, leaving May to conclude England are in the best possible hands.

“We’re starting to see what a genius Steve is in terms of how he’s starting to get this team going,” May said.

“You won’t find a harder working man than Steve and his approach to the game is a little bit like Alan Turing.

“If anybody is going to crack the code to rugby it will be Steve – he’s getting ever closer each week and good luck to him.

“He’s got an analytical brain and an evidence-based, scientific, Spock-like approach to the game.

“I’ve learned a lot from him. I’ve been very grateful for all the coaches I’ve had throughout my career and I’ve absorbed everything I possibly can, always trying to learn and be curious.

“But Steve, with his ways, he’s on to something. He’s a young coach and has this unique and different way that he goes about the game.

“Cracking it is not something I’m interested in doing as the game gets more complicated each week, but he’s obsessed with it so hats off to him.”

While England can look ahead with optimism, May strongly suspects that their future does not include him.

The nation’s second-highest try scorer of all-time behind Rory Underwood will almost certainly have played his last Test at this World Cup, Friday’s bronze match against Argentina his final opportunity to pull on a Red Rose jersey.

The 33-year-old wing was only called up to Borthwick’s squad because of an injury to Anthony Watson, yet he has been a regular starter and was outstanding against South Africa, even winning a jackal penalty.

“Never say never, but very much in my head now I’m thinking, more than likely that I’ll be done after this,” May said.

“For me no regrets, what a journey, I wasn’t even going to be on the plane at one point.

“But I stuck in there and that’s the attitude across the team – we stick in there, we’ve had pretty much everything thrown at us, but we’re starting to find ourselves.

It’s been everything to me, playing for England, just absolutely everything

Jonny May

“I’m grateful to have been a part of it and although it probably won’t continue after this World Cup, I feel like I’m connected to this team. It’s making my hairs stand up now a little bit.

“To be connected like that, to be close to the boys and have those relationships, to go through these times with these friends of mine, is incredibly important to me.

“It’s been everything to me, playing for England, just absolutely everything.”

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