Anthony Watson has acclaimed Jonny May’s “freaky” finishing skills, but retired referee Nigel Owens insists his acrobatic try in England’s victory over Italy should have been disallowed.
Watson plundered two classy touch downs as the champions relaunched their Guinness Six Nations title defence with a 41-18 triumph at Twickenham, but the moment of genius came from May on the other wing.
Racing for the line, May leapt almost four feet into the air to evade a despairing late cover tackle from Luca Sperandio and on his downwards fall he reached out to score from a horizontal, mid-air position.
According to Test centurion referee Owens, it was illegal because the Gloucester wing went airborne to avoid Sperandio rather than using it as a means to reach the whitewash.
“Diving for the line to score a try is allowed. Jumping in the air to avoid a tackle is not. May jumps up to avoid tackle first which is not diving for the line,” Owens said on Twitter.
Watson, however, is content to appreciate the artistry that has propelled May clear in second place in England’s all-time try-scoring list with 32.
“It was freaky. You’ve got a split second to make a decision whether to dive flat or dive in the air,” the Bath and Lions flyer said.
His first action is to jump up to avoid tackle. How can you expect a defender to defend this as he can’t tackle him whilst he is in the air like that. Diving to score a try is is not jumping in the air. How do you dive into the swimming pool ? Not by jumping up first !!!
— Nigel Owens MBE (@Nigelrefowens) February 13, 2021
“And then you need to get the ball down before your legs touch the ground. For him to have done that in a split second, deciding what to do and pull it off, is crazy. It was a like an NRL-style finish and fair play to him.
“You can practise it in training – you get the the crash mats out and someone on the tackle bag will try to bang you out into touch – but that came to Jonny instinctively and that’s when he’s at his best.”
Whatever the legalities of another entry for May’s extraordinary finishing highlights reel, England were able to reflect on a six-try win that has repaired some of the damage caused by the dire mauling from Scotland a week earlier.
It was patchy at times and the execution often failed to match the intent as the final-quarter romp traditional against Italy never materialised, but it was a step forward for a team that since the autumn has been shackled by kick-first conservatism.
“We had a good chat in the week about the excitement of getting the ball in your hands, having a bit of life about us and taking people on,” fly-half George Ford said.
“Our outside backs are the best in the world at what they do if they get the space and they should be getting the ball numerous times in a game.
“There are other ways of attacking as well, but it would be a crying shame not to use our outside backs in the way we did against Italy.
“They were brilliant finishes from Anthony and Jonny and we need to get the ball into their hands.”