ENGLAND hopeful Jonny May is embarking on a hectic new year in which he will tackle a final university exam and his toughest test on the pitch.
The turbo-charged Gloucester wing lines up against Premiership leaders Saracens today and will sit a finals exam for his Sports Business Management degree on Wednesday.
With Marlon Yarde and Christian Wade currently out of action, there is plenty of room for wings in Stuart Lancaster’s Elite Player Squad for the looming Six Nations.
Four candidates will be on display during the crunch league clash at Kingsholm, with the Cherry and Whites’ wide duo May and Charlie Sharples vying against fellow Saxon David Strettle and full squad member Chris Ashton.
And before burying his head back in the books, May is determined to continue the red-hot form that has seen him touch down 11 times in his last 15 Premiership encounters.
He said: “It’s a really busy period and I have an exam in four days’ time. It’s just a case of keeping my head down and working hard.
“I’m playing some good rugby at the moment, definitely better than I ever have before. I also feel I’m still learning and improving, which is a big positive.
“Being involved with England is where you want to be as a player. But the only way to do that is by focusing on myself and playing as well as I can when picked for Gloucester.
“They will have Strettle and Ashton but we feel Sharples and myself are equally good wingers and it will be a good battle.
“I play good wings every week and you can’t focus on the individual you are up against. You have to look for opportunities all over the pitch and take them wherever they come.
“Every match counts towards selection so there’s no more on this game in those terms.
“Every game’s a big one and you’re only as good as your last. I just have to make sure I play to my best.
“My head is fully focused on Gloucester and putting in a performance and result on the weekend. I put all the studying to the side and focus on rugby but then it’s very intense, last minute cramming – that seems to get me through so far.
“I’ve started my revision, which I don’t particularly like, but I do enjoy the mental break from rugby. It’s a great distraction and will be rewarding when I get my degree which will hopefully be another string to my bow.”
Having been selected in a succession of England Saxons squads, May made his full Red Rose debut during the summer tour of Argentina.
He describes the trip to South America as a formative experience and has received widespread plaudits, with the likes of Sir Clive Woodward and Olympic gold medallist Marlon Devonish among a growing list of supporters following his scintillating performances this season.
The Swindon-born star has been flattered by the compliments and insists he is ready to make his Championship bow but is well aware that only one opinion counts – that of Lancaster.
May said: “It’s been really nice to have those plaudits and it means a lot but the only opinions that matter are my own and those of the person picking the team.
“I’m obviously aware of the injuries to Yarde and Wade and have heard the gossip going around linking me to the squad, but there’s been nothing official.
“It would be massive to be involved. I’ve feel I’ve slowly progressed – I was in the Saxons two years ago but didn’t go on the summer tour before being called up.
“Last year I was in the Saxons squad and made the summer tour. I’m in the Saxons again but if I’m selected for the Six Nations it would be amazing.
“It’s been a long process but it took me some time to break into the Gloucester team and it was the same back at Hartpury. It’s always being a case of coming in and out and working hard before establishing myself.
“When you’re in that international set-up the pressure is on and that brings out the best in me. Being in an environment when you’re constantly being scanned and judged you always have to be at your best.
“You’re around a slightly better quality of player and have to up your game.
“I feel I am ready but whether I get that chance is down to Stuart.”
May highlights a reassuringly impressive list of former England stars, including Will Greenwood, Jonny Wilkinson and Jason Robinson as his boyhood rugby heroes.
He even wore a Newcastle Falcons jersey on his first trip to Kingsholm in support of the great fly-half.
Closer to home, he cites Henry Trinder as another source of inspiration.
He said: “I started off as a centre and it sounds stupid because he’s a really good friend but I really looked up to Henry Trinder.
“He was the year above me at college and got given a contract at Gloucester – I thought it was amazing.
“Then on TV it was guys like Will Greenwood and I had enormous respect for Jason Robinson. Every time he got the ball it was exciting to watch and Jonny Wilkinson was a real role model in terms of his professionalism and consistency.
“I only came to Kingsholm once as a supporter but was wearing a Newcastle jersey because Jonny was playing. That was a long time ago and being from Swindon it was Bath, Bristol or Gloucester, but as soon as I went to Hartpury and was around this environment it was definitely going to be this club.”
It is fair to say Gloucester have endured a disappointing season to date, but the festive double over Worcester Warriors and London Irish – coupled with recent signings and re-signings – have given plenty of reasons for optimism.
Many supporters have already turned one eye to next season, but May insists there is no time like the present and has set a minimum target of climbing into the top half of the Premiership table.
It all begins with the daunting challenge presented by Saracens, but May insists it is not an insurmountable one and proclaimed the Cherry and Whites are capable of conquering any team on their own patch.
He said: “Those wins over Christmas were desperately important. It was a difficult period for all rugby players with all that is going on and you need to be able to switch back for an important game, but we managed that well.
“We were under pressure to get results in those two games but achieved it and it’s now important that we don’t lay off the gas. We have a new year and a new start and hopefully we can put a performance in.
“Ahead of the Worcester game we all felt the pressure, but once that was out the way we were able to focus on ourselves. We know we’re not playing as well as we can but we’ve won a couple and if we improve our accuracy and detail and get everything right we are capable of beating anybody.
“Saracens are coming to Kingsholm, which we view as a fortress for us. There’s no team we can’t beat here, we’ve beaten the best teams and we have a team good enough to do it. It will be a close game and if we get those things right and are right mentally there’s no reason why it won’t go to the wire.
“This season isn’t over and we need to buck up our ideas and climb the table before we even think of next year. We can definitely push into the top half of the table.”