May lays down Eng­land marker as Le­ices­ter stave off Ir­ish rally

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Aviva Premiership - By Gavin Mairs at the Made­jski Sta­dium

Jonny May all but con­firmed his re­turn to the Eng­land team for the au­tumn Test se­ries af­ter scor­ing a sixth try in as many games as Le­ices­ter moved up to fifth place in the Pre­mier­ship ta­ble with a fourth suc­ces­sive vic­tory for the first time since March 2015.

May’s per­for­mance once again earned him the man-of-the-match award, back­ing up his 61st-minute try by mak­ing 17 car­ries, yield­ing 164 me­tres, as his stun­ning run of form con­tin­ued fol­low­ing his trans­fer from Glouces­ter in Au­gust.

Matt O’Con­nor, Le­ices­ter’s head coach, is in no doubt that May is ready for a re­turn to the Test stage af­ter los­ing his place in Ed­die Jones’s side dur­ing the Six Na­tions in March.

“He is a world-class fin­isher, he has given the group a lot and he cre­ates things from noth­ing. At this level that is what you need,” said O’Con­nor. “He is eas­ily the best fin­isher and best left­winger in Eng­land. I would cer­tainly pick him, but it is not my de­ci­sion.”

There was an im­pres­sive de­but for Gareth Owen fol­low­ing his move from Llanelli Scar­lets, al­though O’Con­nor was un­der­stand­ably frus­trated by his side’s in­abil­ity to fin­ish the job by fail­ing to col­lect a bonus point. Sione Kala­ma­foni and Sam Har­ri­son were forced out of the con­test in the first half with con­cus­sion in­juries, al­though O’Con­nor ex­pects them both to be fit for the Cham­pi­ons Cup opener against Rac­ing 92 in Paris on Satur­day.

Ir­ish looked down and out, trail­ing 21-3 af­ter Will Evans crossed for a try at the start of the sec­ond half, but they fin­ished with a flour­ish, with their sup­port­ers cel­e­brat­ing the last-gasp try by Alex Lew­ing­ton – which snatched a los­ing bonus point – like a vic­tory.

The score­line flat­tered Ir­ish; Le­ices­ter con­verted only one of eight line breaks in the first half and had with­drawn sev­eral of their big guns be­fore the fi­nal quar­ter with a view to the start of their Euro­pean cam­paign.

And yet Ir­ish’s rous­ing fin­ish was in­dica­tive of Nick Kennedy’s side’s abil­ity to grow into games and a seem­ingly in­de­fati­ga­ble spirit, even with an in­jury list that cur­rently stands at 19 play­ers.

“I am proud of the boys be­cause they have got mas­sive hearts and are great fight­ers,” said Kennedy. “We are end­ing games strongly, but need to stop giv­ing our­selves a moun­tain to climb.”

Once again Ir­ish were un­done by a painfully slow start and at times a shock­ing de­fence – a joint train­ing ses­sion with Har­lequins in mid­week did lit­tle to im­prove their pedes­trian open­ing, with a bul­let pass by Matt Toomua cre­at­ing an early try for Nick Malouf. May’s abil­ity to make half-breaks kept the Ir­ish for­wards on the back foot and it was no sur­prise when Ge­orge Ford ex­tended his side’s lead with three sim­ple penal­ties.

Ir­ish did not help them­selves by their lack of com­pet­i­tive restarts, with Owen mak­ing a hugely im­pres­sive de­but at out­side-cen­tre, spoilt only by a yel­low card for a dan­ger­ous tackle on Greig Tonks, which al­lowed Tommy Bell to land a penalty.

Ir­ish’s only other scor­ing chances in the first half came when hooker David Paice was held up over the line, while the last act of the half saw Topsy Ojo also fail to ground the ball over the line.

Evans scored with em­bar­rass­ing ease at the start of the sec­ond half, tak­ing ad­van­tage of some sloppy de­fend­ing by Ben Franks, be­fore a poor tackle by Malouf al­lowed Blair Cowan to cross for a try for Ir­ish, with Bell’s con­ver­sion re­duc­ing the deficit to eight points.

When Toomua’s out­stand­ing ser­vice put May into space to fin­ish his try Le­ices­ter looked to be cruis­ing again, but Paice struck back with a try fol­low­ing a side-step­ping break by Ol­lie Hoskins, be­fore Lew­ing­ton’s score se­cured the los­ing bonus point.

Joy of six: Jonny May crossed for his sixth try in as many games dur­ing an­other fine dis­play for Le­ices­ter

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