Jonny May will win his 50th England cap on Saturday, but the winger will never forget how he won his first, writes Charlie Talbot-Smith.
On tour to Argentina back in 2013, the then-Gloucester flyer got his call-up on the back of a British & Irish Lions tour to Australia.
But despite the Red Rose absentees that summer, May still found himself on the outside looking in against the Pumas.
Indeed it only took a late call-up to the Lions tour for Christian Wade, and the luck of missing a night out, for May to make his international bow.
"My first cap I’ll always remember because it didn’t really go how I’d have thought," he said.
"It was Argentina 2013 and I can’t really remember the numbers but we picked 14 backs or something in the squad and I was looking around, it was Lions year and I thought, ‘I’m probably going to get a game’, it was one of those tournaments where you were going to get a go and one player maybe won’t get a game.
"So my mum and dad came out and I wasn’t picked for the first game, then I wasn’t picked for the second game and I just felt... 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 get a game.
"But then funnily enough Christian Wade got called up for the Lions on the morning of the game and, basically, because my mum and dad were out, I went out for dinner with them and 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 and I ended up starting that game.
"And then it’s just what was probably quite a challenging couple of weeks finished on a real good note as my parents got to watch me play and I got my first cap, it all worked out in the end.”
With Jonny May fast approaching his 50th England cap, we caught up with the @LeicesterTigers wing to see how years of hard work spent improving his athleticism and rugby expertise are paying off for club and country: https://t.co/23WPP5fSHG pic.twitter.com/IG7R4fPwKz
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) October 15, 2019
The young flyer that made his debut against the Pumas is a very different man from the one that will line up against Australia in Oita on Saturday.
A World Cup quarter-final is a big stage, and May has made himself a man for the occasion.
The Leicester Tigers flyer has scored 15 tries in his last 19 outings to make himself the premier winger on the international scene.
And while pace always came naturally, it is the work on the other parts of his game that has marked him out from the start.
He added: "You do change. I’ve changed a lot, not just as a rugby player but as a person as well along the journey.
"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 and it has taken a lot of hard work.
"I’m sitting here now, I’ve got goosebumps because I’m so excited to go out there this weekend and try to 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 when it’s something consistent like that. So it’s something that I’m proud of."
Ask any England player out here in Japan, and they will tell you that no-one is quite as weird as May.
But in the same breath they will also reveal the work ethic that has taken the 29-year-old to the top.
As well as his try scoring record, May has become one of the world's best under the high ball and has worked incessantly on his kicking game.
He added: "It’s not necessarily working more than anybody else, it’s just what I need. I really do focus on making sure I do everything I possibly can every day, and that’s been my mindset for a very long time. But as you go through your career you learn what you need more and how to make it better, and day by day you just work it out.
"I’m not necessarily at a stage now where I’m working harder but working smarter, just to keep developing myself to keep improving.
"I’ve probably just tried to be a bit more serious. I have matured. I have become more focused certainly, maybe a little bit more introverted as the years have gone on.
"That is probably a result of the pressure I’ve put on myself. That’s just how I am at the moment, and how I want to be as well. I wouldn’t change any of it. That’s what I’m proud of. I wouldn’t say I’ve cut a corner, I’ve just stuck to it, every day.
— Jonny May (@J0nnyMay) October 7, 2019
"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.”
And this weekend, May marks his half century in undoubtedly the biggest game of his career against the old rivals Australia.
What he would give for another try and a victory that takes them back to Tokyo and into the final four.
"If I take myself away from being a player, you think back to the World Cup final in 2003. You think about the cricket. Rugby union and cricket probably, as a fan," he added.
"But as players, much as it's a huge game and a quarter-final, and for me it's potentially a 50th cap, it's actually just another day to go out there.
"We have training this afternoon and I want to make sure I have the best session I possibly can and prepare as well as I possibly can so that the team go out trying to produce our best performance ever."
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