England’s Jonny May on brink of remarkable injury return against Argentina

Jonny May is set to complete a remarkable recovery from a dislocated elbow against Argentina on Sunday after being retained in a reduced squad for the autumn opener at Twickenham.

May was in severe pain after falling awkwardly to the pitch in Gloucester’s victory at London Irish on October 21 and, having been administered oxygen, he was helped from the field with his left arm in a giant brace.

It was initially feared he would play no part in an Autumn Nations Series that also includes fixtures against Japan, New Zealand and South Africa, but he is now on the brink of an unlikely early comeback.

Seven backs have been retained in a squad of 25 players to step up preparations for the visit of Michael Cheika’s resurgent Pumas, meaning May will be involved in the matchday 23 unless Eddie Jones opts for a six-two split on the bench.

If he features against Argentina, it will be the latest twist in an eventful year for the 32-year-old wing, who has already battled back from a significant knee problem and a serious dose of Covid that ruled him out of all three Tests against Australia in July.

When asked about May’s ability to return so quickly, attack coach Martin Gleeson said: “He’s Jonny May! That’s what he does! His healing powers are unbelievable. He’s in a good spot.”

England’s confidence in Owen Farrell completing the final stage of his return to play protocols after being knocked out against Exeter on October 22 is evident after he was retained without additional playmaking cover beyond Henry Slade present.

Farrell must come through Thursday’s session without mishap to become available against Argentina, thereby enabling him to start in a midfield trio alongside Marcus Smith and Manu Tuilagi for the first time.

Owen Farrell speaks to head coach Eddie Jones during England training on Wednesday
Owen Farrell speaks to head coach Eddie Jones during England training on Wednesday (Andrew Matthews/PA)

The Saracens fly-half played a restricted part in training on Wednesday but is on course to take his place at inside centre when Eddie Jones names his team on Friday morning and could also replace the injured Courtney Lawes as captain.

“Owen is just going through the last bits of his return to play but everything’s gone according to plan so far. He looked good in training, full of enthusiasm. Just his normal self really,” Gleeson said.

England are keen to reprise the Smith-Farrell playmaking axis that was first seen last autumn before successive ankle injuries to sideline the senior member of the attacking brains trust saw it put on ice until the Wallabies were toppled in the summer.

Jones is investing in the duo with next year’s World Cup in mind, although they have fired only in glimpses as a partnership.

“Owen’s partnership with Marcus is a big part of where we want to go as a team. They’re four games in together and we want to build on that this autumn,” Gleeson said.

Manu Tuilagi is back after another injury-hit year
Manu Tuilagi is back after another injury-hit year (Andrew Matthews/PA)

“Owen and Marcus are four games in together. They’ve only lost one, against Australia in Perth in July.

“Their understanding of each other and how we want to play is growing and then you add Manu into the mix, he gives that little bit of punch.

“Four games is not a lot, whatever position you’re in, when it comes to building a combination. We’ll see the rewards when they play together more.”

Expectation is building over Tuilagi’s England return after hamstring and knee issues kept him out of the Test arena since last autumn, but Gleeson insists the ambition for his involvement stretches beyond being used as a battering ram.

“You don’t want to just give it to a big fella to run into a brick wall and hope he comes through the other side. That would be a bit rubbish, wouldn’t it?” he said.

“You want to get him a one on one, between defenders. If you can get your running lines right and have someone like Manu hitting a hole, it’s even better.”