Anatomy of A Try: Jonny May vs Australia October 2019

As Australia found out knock out Rugby is a cruel mistress.

You can have all the ball, try to play all the rugby. But if you aren’t accurate, don’t put the points on the board when they are on offer. Well, then you simply aren’t giving yourself much of a chance, are you?

Knock out Rugby changes peoples mentality. The temptation is to play 100mph for 80 minutes with the intention of blowing your opponents out of the water. But the truth of it is that you only need a few seconds to score a try. How fast can your fastest man run 100m? Well that’s how long you need, so it pays not to panic. To be patient, to keep it simple and concentrate on getting the little details right.

Some Game Stats:

  • Australia had: 64% possession. 62% territory.
  • Tackles: England made 181 defensive interactions completing 160 of them.
  • In contrast Australia were made to tackle 78 times and miss 12 tackles.
  • Australia ran 151 times vs England 71 making 568m (303m more than England’s 275 total)

Now, I doubt that will be of any surprise to you if you watched the game but still, it’s some serious numbers. Statistically Australia came out on top in the majority of the areas except defence and the most importantly, the scoreboard.


With all that in mind I want to look at Jonny May’s second try of the game.

Scored from an Intercept it’s easy to put it down to dumb luck but it’s important to look at moments like these and see how they came about, to understand cause and effect .

Because very little happens on the Rugby pitch that can be attributed to chance.

England’s ability to sit back, defend and wait for Australia to make a mistake and then take the opportunities that presented itself was perfect knock out Rugby and the catalyst for this very try.

Australia kick off having just conceded Mays first try (we’ll come back to that in another article) and England gather set and run one phase back to the middle of the pitch..  

Youngs sends a box kick high and long on to the right touchline. It’s not designed to compete for, instead they want to send Australia deep ask them to run it back at them and get their defence in amongst them.


But why not just kick from the first ruck? Well, it’s all about the details.

It’s key that England don’t kick aimlessly as Australia with Beale are excellent counter attackers. However England don’t want to kick dead and give Australia a launchpad to work a pre-planned strike move. 

So, instead they work a phase see what happens and moving that ball back another phase means Australia’s Back Three defence has to split both left and right to cover both sides – they can’t pendulum quickly as England can kick to either touch line.

So when the kick does comes and Petaia catches the ball, even though he’s under no obvious pressure, we can see Hodge is a way off and Beale has had to run from right to left. Meaning he’s facing the wrong way to scan and fire another long pass. of course these level of details aren’t planned but by dragging the Australian back three across it’s made the counter attack more difficult and they are unable to exploit the space in the far channel.


Australia only really have the option of attacking back down this left touchline.

Beale does really well here, he spots George and Vunipola in the chase line and immediately attacks between them using Naisarani as a shield. Getting a wonderful offload away from Georges tackle to Petaia who hares onward riding Farrell’s tackle before being hauled down by Itoje tracking back. 


But, importantly England didn’t panic.

They make their cover tackles and instead of rushing in to compete out of desperation they send one person in (Lawes) and the rest step out and set up for the next defensive press. 


It’s really good, the temptation is to jump in and kill the ball, but Itoje having made the tackle isn’t greedy and bounces out to set the next defence – if you can, track him through the next phases and watch how he is present but doesn’t over commit.

Australia recycle twice and now, two phases on, having made another tackle and stayed alive, Itoje is able to cut through what looks like but isn’t a ruck and disrupts Genia with the ball, forcing him into making a panicked pass to Pocock who takes the ball behind Lealiifano and as the two try to connect under pressure the pass goes to Slade’s hand and we’re off to the races.

A beautiful grubber from Slade sees May regather shoot over for his brace.


It’s a wonderful calculated piece of Rugby by England and Itojes patience and understanding of the immediate situation epitomised their play in this quarter final. Placing pressure on the attacking side and waiting until that turns a relatively promising Australian counter attack into a try for England on the counter attack.



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