Brian Ashton, 77, still bringing innovation to rugby – with the Red Roses

Abby Dow - Brian Ashton, 77, still bringing innovation to rugby – with the Red Roses

Abby Dow has praised Brian Ashton for helping the Red Roses “rethink the philosophy of rugby” and believes the former England men’s coach has been key to their continued success on the pitch.

Ashton, who guided England men to the World Cup final in 2007, has been acting as a consultant with the England Women’s team in recent months as they build towards next year’s home World Cup.

The 77-year-old has been a popular addition to the set-up and Dow insists his wealth of experience has perfectly complemented the fresh ideas brought by John Mitchell and attack coach Lou Meadows in a revamped coaching team.

Crucially, Dow believes Ashton’s influence has been pivotal in shaping the Red Roses’ devastating back line attack which has terrorised opposition defences in this year’s Women’s Six Nations. Of the 14 tries England scored in their 88-10 hammering of Ireland, 11 were scored by backs.

“Having Brian Ashton available throughout the week – I absolutely adore the man,” said Dow. “He makes us ask those questions. ‘If this is the picture, what is the easiest way that you can take the wins?’ It doesn’t matter where you play, surely the game is the same across the pitch?’

“The way he phrases it almost makes you rethink the philosophy of rugby. I think the English brand, the 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. “

Ashton, who was heavily involved in England’s academy structure before his two-year stint coaching England men from 2006 to 2008, is understood to be relishing his latest experience in the Red Roses’ camp. “Brian, merged with Lou, merged with Mitch – it’s a brilliant homogeneous mix of different personalities forming a coaching team that is able to get the best out of us,” added Dow.

Brian Ashton and the England men's side reached the final at the 2007 Rugby World Cup
Brian Ashton and the England men's side reached the final at the 2007 Rugby World Cup - Getty Images/Stu Forster

Dow was one of two hat-trick heroines in England’s rout of Ireland in front of a crowd of almost 50,000 at Twickenham in a match that will raise further questions about the competitiveness of the Women’s Six Nations. The Ealing Trailfinders speedster, however, insists the Red Roses’ ability to wow crowds with an attack-minded game is integral to their long-term aim to play at a sold-out Twickenham and inspire more fans.

“At the end of the day, professional rugby is a business,” said Dow. “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, into the youth 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 on to the grassroots level.”

England fly to Bordeaux next week for a Grand Slam showdown with France – a side who they have not lost to since the 2018 iteration of the championship – with a sixth consecutive Six Nations crown in their sights. A hostile atmosphere is expected inside the 34,462-capacity Stade Chaban-Delmas, where Dow is relishing the chance to pit herself against the “joue” nature of the French.

“It’s always such a tough battle,” said Dow. “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. I think how the French girls play, how they want to play, is a really inspirational way. 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.”