Jonny May on 'tough' Leicester Tigers years, returning to Gloucester and the Lions
By Sky Sports Rugby Union
Last Updated: 28/07/20 4:52pm
Jonny May speaks exclusively to Sky Sports Rugby about his decision to return to Gloucester, his "tough" years with the Leicester Tigers and dreams of becoming a British and Irish Lion...
Speaking as a guest on the latest episode of the Will Greenwood podcast, the England wing addressed why he chose to re-sign with the Cherry and Whites, and in doing so, explained his reasoning for leaving Kingsholm after eight years of service in 2017.
"I think it's more a case of why did I leave Gloucester in the first place really," May told Sky Sports.
"Gloucester is my home team, I am a loyal guy, I don't like change particularly, I'm a creature of habit and like my routine and all those things.
"But back to the 2017 Six Nations, I'd just lost my spot, Eddie (Jones, England head coach) had kept me for a couple of weeks to sing the after-match song.
"All the other guys went on the Lions tour [2017, vs New Zealand] and I wasn't there, and I was 27. I wasn't happy and knew I could be a better player and probably was underachieving.
"I hadn't done what I needed to do - I'd been at Gloucester eight years and we'd always been around eighth place.
"Beyond that, I was so comfortable that I wasn't challenged, I didn't have a spring in my step every day, I was fed up. I'd just had a nasty [knee] injury which was 10 months out, and all these things were adding up.
"And more so, Eddie was putting me under serious pressure. I just felt like I needed to do something to almost give myself the boost I needed. To challenge myself, go all in and give it everything I could.
"The opportunity to go to Leicester came up and at the time you think they are a team who wins trophies and sits at the top of the league, full of international players and one of the most successful teams.
"It would also challenge me to step outside my comfort zone, learn off new players and new coaches.
"As tough as a decision it was - the toughest I've ever made to leave Gloucester - I honestly had to do it at that time.
"Going to Leicester, it wasn't the challenge I was expecting but it was the challenge I needed in terms of improving my game, stepping outside of my comfort zone and playing with George (Ford), (Ellis) Genge, Manu (Tuilagi), Lenny (Ben Youngs), under different coaches and really put myself under pressure.
"And it has shown - I think I've definitely improved over the last few years, and with regards to returning to Gloucester, again it was a tough decision.
"I'll be honest, my heart has always been with Gloucester, but that doesn't mean I didn't play 100 per cent for Leicester every week, I did. I gave 100 per cent in training every day, 100 per cent at the weekend, I helped the team out as much as I could, tried to be the best I could, but it didn't quite feel like home.
"It was a decision to make. Stay at Leicester where Steve (Borthwick) was coming in at, I know he''ll be brilliant and will get the club back to where it belongs and where it expects to be, or come back to Gloucester and see out my days there.
"It came down to which contract and which place gives me the most energy and makes me feel good,
"To be honest, it was a tough few years at Leicester, it wasn't what I was expecting. I feel like I probably had that challenge that I wanted and now I'm really grateful to be back at Gloucester and playing for the team I want to play at."
Since agreeing his return to Gloucester in April 2020, there have been several changes at the club.
In June 2020, head coach Johan Ackermann was a surprise departure, while director of rugby David Humphreys soon followed - just 18 days later in fact.
Players departed too. South Africans Franco Marais and Franco Mostert followed countryman Ackermann to Japan, as did Kiwi Tom Marshall and Wales' Owen Williams, while two more South Africans left as well: Gerbrandt Grobler to France with Stade Français and Ruan Dreyer back to South African rugby with the Lions.
Have such changes been a concern for May?
"No, not at all," he said.
"The older you get and the longer you've been in the game, all that sideshow stuff: coaches in, stories here, players in and out, that's all a sideshow you don't pay attention to.
"All I see is, I go into training every day, there's a good buzz, a really good group of players and new young, English and ambitious coaches, who are really good guys.
"Listen, all I do every day is go in and focus on trying to be as good a player as I can be and try help the team along.
"I feel great because physically I feel brilliant because I've had a break, I'm back at the club I love to be at, I've got a real spring in my step every day and it really wasn't a case of going back to Gloucester to wind down.
"It's going back to Gloucester to step it up again. That's the way I'm looking at it.
"I'm definitely coming back a better player, but I want to improve again.
"It's exactly the challenge I wanted, we've got Ollie Thorley and Louis Rees-Zammit, two young wingers who are going to put me under pressure to be better, faster. And it can work both ways, I want to bring them on as well."
Having missed out on British and Irish Lions tours to Australia in 2013 and New Zealand in 2017, May is dearly hoping to strike it third time lucky when the tourists take on world champions South Africa this time next year.
As one of the most improved and consistent players in world rugby, May appears a leading candidate at this point. But the wing knows nothing is certain in sport.
"Of course that's (Lions 2021) a thought that pops into the head quite a lot for me," he says.
"It's certainly something I'd love to do, and I want to put myself in a position this season where, whether I achieve it or not, I've done all I can and can have no regrets.
"But when that thought comes into my head, I've got to try and push it away, because ultimately I can't pick myself.
"All I can do is train hard, play well each week and try to improve my game as much as I can.
"We're still a year out from that. A week is a long time in rugby, never mind a year, so this next block of games will be very intense, and then there's the autumn, so it's such a long journey between now and then [the Lions tour].
"I'm desperate to do it and of course it would mean a lot, but ultimately I'll focus on the things you can control. You can't control selection."