Abby Dow reveals Brian Ashton’s influence on Red Roses’ attacking evolution

The veteran coach has helped England ‘re-think the philosophy of rugby’ during their dominant Women’s Six Nations campaign

Harry Latham-Coyle
Sunday 21 April 2024 12:00 BST
Abby Dow scored a hat-trick in England’s thrashing of Ireland
Abby Dow scored a hat-trick in England’s thrashing of Ireland (Getty Images)

Abby Dow has revealed how consultant coach Brian Ashton has challenged the Red Roses to “re-think the philosophy of rugby” and inspired the side to take their games to new heights.

England have embraced a more expansive style in their dominant Women’s Six Nations campaign, producing a sensational attacking performance to beat Ireland 88-10 in front of nearly 50,000 at Twickenham.

The hosts scored 14 tries in the win, captivating the crowd with a brilliant display of accurate and ambitious rugby.

While their competition dominance is not new, England have previously been accused of being overly reliant on their forward supremacy and the might of their driving maul, rather than building an attack capable of scoring in different ways.

But veteran coach Ashton – who guided England’s men to the World Cup final in 2007 – has helped drive an evolution in partnership with head coach John Mitchell and Lou Meadows, who oversees the attack.

“It’s a brilliant homogeneous mix of different personalities forming a coaching team that is able to get the best out of us,” Dow explained. “Having Brian Ashton available throughout the week – I absolutely adore the man.

Brian Ashton is helping the Red Roses unlock their attacking game (Getty Images)

“He makes us ask those [attacking] questions. ‘If this is the picture, what is the most easy way that you can take the wins?’ The way he phrases it almost makes you re-think the philosophy of rugby.

“I think the English philosophy is, ‘let’s kick to the corner, let’s take the territory’. But is that the philosophy of all rugby? Can we expand that? The questions we’ve been asked, you can see our nines and tens are stepping up and actually answering those questions and, as a result, playing a really exciting brand of rugby.”

As revealed by The Independent last May, Ashton was brought in to develop England’s staff and squad in the lead-up to next summer’s World Cup on home soil.

Wing Dow crossed for a hat-trick in the Ireland thrashing, while full-back Ellie Kildunne continued her outstanding tournament with three more scores of her own.

Abby Dow starred at Twickenham (Getty Images)

While the attendance was about 10,000 smaller than the record-breaking figure for last year’s grand slam clash with France, it nonetheless evidenced the growth of the game as the Rugby Football Union (RFU) work towards selling out Twickenham for next year’s World Cup final.

Trailfinders’ Dow believes that her side’s new style will help bring in new fans and players to rugby: “I think at the end of the day, professional rugby is a business in its own way. We need to be proving to the whole of England that we can play an exciting brand of rugby.

“We want to get kids, boys and girls, in at grassroots level, making the game accessible for all and just having joy while you play it. If you can have even more joy while watching it, imagine what you can take in to the grassroots level.”

England fly to Bordeaux on Thursday evening ahead of Saturday’s meeting with France at the Stade Chaban-Delmas, with Les Bleues likely to provide Mitchell’s side with their toughest test of the tournament by far.

While the Red Roses have won their last 12 meetings with their closest foes, eight of those encounters have been decided by a single score.

“France is always a big game; France in France is even better,” said Dow. “It’s always such a tough battle. The crowd is absolutely incredible there. They will be gunning against you, but if you manage to crack the crowd they will start gunning against themselves, it’s brilliant.

Abby Dow is ready to relish a trip to take on France in Bordeaux (Getty Images)

“Playing against that sort of attack and defence offers us new challenges, and challenges how we behave and play on that pitch. It’s a brilliant challenge and really exciting for the team.”

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