EXCLUSIVE: England Wing Abby Dow Is Flying High Ahead of Women's Six Nations & Talks Italian Test - Ruck

EXCLUSIVE: England Wing Abby Dow Is Flying High Ahead of Women’s Six Nations & Talks Italian Test

One of the top wings in the world, England flyer Abby Dow is eagerly anticipating the start of the 2024 Women’s Six Nations. With four tries in last year’s outing against Italy, Dow certainly knows how to get points on the board against the Azzurri, as England head over to Parma for their opening round match this Sunday.

Dow’s quartet of tries helped England build an unobtainable lead in Northampton, when Italy visited Franklin’s Gardens last April. The final score saw England stand tall at 68-5, as the Red Roses crossed over for a stunning dozen of 12 tries. Dow’s four, along with Jess Breach’s hat-trick, braces for Claudia MacDonald and Marlie Packer, and a solo score for Tatyana Heard, laid out a statement of intent for England on their way to their fifth consecutive Women’s Six Nations title.

Speaking exclusively to RUCK, Dow humbly expressed how despite crossing over for four scores against Italy, the match is better remembered as a strong re-building exercise following the previous Rugby World Cup Final defeat. Applying full credit to her Red Roses colleagues, Dow said;

“I think last time was quite nice, because it was the Six Nations after a World Cup, which normally means you get to go back to that experimenting phase and work out what sort of team you want to be. And I think it’s quite nice when you experiment and it can see dividends in it quite quickly. And it was a good experience for the whole team.”

“I think tries are quite… it is a measure of a performance, but I don’t think it is always the most accurate measure of what success means and in a shirt and a Red Roses shirt. Maybe not as many tries, But I do think since then, I’ve personally been on a journey and the team’s gone on a journey to basically scope out new ways of playing the game. And it’s really good to be part of that.”

Abby Dow of England Red Roses on the break during the international friendly match between England Red Roses and Canada women at Sandy Park, Exeter on 23rd Sept 2023. Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

Like the Red Roses, Italy’s women’s side have been on a progressive journey in the past year, which presents all the more exciting anticipation for this Sunday’s clash. The Italians achieved a trio of wins in the first ever WXV2 competition, with impressive victories against Japan, South Africa and the USA. Italy were beaten to the WXV2 trophy by the narrowest of margins, as Scotland’s +2 points scored difference perched them at the top of the table for the silverware.

“The thing is, being able to play a variety of rugby teams, means you’ll learn in different ways.” Dow added. “Like the Scots, being able to play different teams than who they normally would play, and consistently playing different teams, who are actually a very tightly competitive level, will probably help drive their skill sets and actually push them up. the WXV is an incredible platform to help grow all teams in different ways. It will almost certainly show into our Six Nations.”

Abby Dow of England Red Roses is tackled by Florence Symonds of Canada’s Womens Rugby during the international friendly match between England Red Roses and Canada women at Sandy Park, Exeter on 23rd Sept 2023. Photo: Izzy Ninnis/PPAUK

Dow discussed what she expects to see from Italy this Sunday, and gave a shout-out to her Trailfinders teammate that is set to pack down the front row. The wing also spoke about how the recent establishment of the Zebre Parma and Benetton Treviso women’s teams is an immense step forward for Italian women’s rugby, in what will bring through a new generation of Azzurri talents for hotly contested matches with the Red Roses.

“If I tell you that one of their props is playing, because she might be a Trailfinder, so shout-out to Sara (Seye)!

“It’ll be a really competitive game. I think they (Italy) look at the game from an angle of seeing space, taking opportunities and being brave. When you’re playing against a team that is brave, you really have to step up your game as well. We’ve had so many games (against Italy) and they’re a real hard nut to crack, because Italy will give it their all until they’ve got nothing left.

“You almost have to wait for them, as they have just absolute passion and energy in attack and defence, and to really hold strong against them. We want to play the same, passionate energy that you can learn off a team that’s literally that flavour, in terms of how they play.

“Want to play that back at them and have a really interesting and entertaining game of rugby as well, hopefully be the consequence. They’ve got so much talent in their skill sets and their physicality and in their game management, and how they play the game, and how they express themselves through the game. So we really excited to play against them.”

“When you get consistency through training, and through playing, you’re going to get consistent, better players. And the fact that so many of the Italian girls have come across to the PWR, which you could describe as one of the most consistently high performing leagues in the world, in the sense that you’re going to get games week in week out, that are a good enough standard to learn and drive and grow.

“The girls come over and actually express themselves in our league, being able to take that, while giving that opportunity to girls in their home country. So that actually, inhibiting factors such as literally moving to another country, or learning a new language (are gone). Those factors actually mean that it’s only the best of people who can speak English and can afford to fly etc, if you’re actually going ‘no, this is a platform that anyone who is Italian can express themselves and learn and grow’. You’re only going to see it in how they play in the domestic league and how they play internationally.”

Italy have certainly adopted a recent taste for winning, in what will make the upcoming weekend’s fixture all the more palatable. England are are side that are known for their success, having gone the entire 2023 calendar year undefeated, with the Women’s Six Nations and WXV1 trophies to boot. Dow’s most recent match for the Red Roses saw her score in their impressive 33-12 win against New Zealand, as they handed the Black Ferns a heavy defeat on home soil, and a taste of Rugby World Cup revenge.

England have since completed their move into a new era, with head coach John Mitchell now firmly at the helm of his side after a transitional time throughout WXV. Mitchell was the self-professed ‘Invisible Man’ in his overseeing role after departing the Japan men’s coaching staff, and learned the Red Roses ropes alongside interim head coach Louis Deacon, and England legend turned pathway coach Sarah Hunter.

John Mitchell, head coach of England A during England Rugby training session at The Lensbury Hotel, Teddington, London on 24 June 2021. Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

Dow discussed her recent interactions with ‘Mitch’, who is growing a new culture at the England camp. The Trailfinders talent discussed how England are looking to roll their WXV winning momentum into the upcoming Women’s Six Nations, amidst a time of great change.

“I think ‘Mitch’ very much speaks about an ‘Everest’ that we have, and how we’re climbing it to go forward into the 2025 World Cup cycle. I think that (2023 WXV) was just one of the peaks that we’re trying to hit. We’re continuing to hit new peaks and strive to new heights. So I think it’s very much the same standard, like the same process in that sense.”

Abby Dow of England Red Roses before the international friendly match between England Red Roses and Canada women at Sandy Park, Exeter on 23rd Sept 2023. Photo: Izzy Ninnis/PPAUK

“So I think when you have a new head coach is all about setting a tone, setting a culture is your first thing. When you set that, you set the performance. And so right now, if you’re really focusing on our culture, and I’m actually almost taking that handbrake off, how we’ve been playing, to actually play the way that we want to play, to play the beauty of the game instead of playing ‘a game in a way’.

“I think it is a really brilliant philosophy and a way of playing. So he’s been very much trying to approach the culture of our team and change it in ways that actually I think will bring out the best in us.”

Abby Dow of England Women on the break is tackled by Kendra Cocksedge of New Zealand Women during the autumn international match between England Women and New Zealand Women at Sandy Park on 31 Oct 2021. Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

Mitchell named his first Red Roses squad a week ago, and included some well-known faces that are set for their return to the England camp. Having each spent a considerable amount of time out of action, England fans will be delighted to see the trio of Emily Scarratt, Zoe Harrison and Abby Ward return for Red Roses duties. The three icons are set for their first experience of the ‘new England’ culture, and as they are all leaders in their own right, Dow expressed how they have been settling back in.

“I think because right now, we’re in a learning phase in terms of learning who we want to be as a team. I think we’re all driving as a whole group together. So I wouldn’t say anyone’s taking a step back. I think that’s the one thing that makes us really push, and want to take that step forward and to not relax into your position, but to drive in your position.”

Emily Scarratt, Vice Captain of England Women on the break during the TikTok Womens Six Nations match between England Women and Wales Women at Kingsholm Stadium on April 9 2022 in Gloucester, England. (Photo by Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

“I think all three of those girls coming back into squad has really good value. But I think as a squad as a whole, we’re driving as one.”

‘Drivers’ have been a key phrase used around the Red Roses camp, as England Women have altered the manor of their leadership group. The Red Roses Thorns, are now known as the ‘Game Drivers’, and they have changed their approach to finding solutions when the test match stage kicks into a challenging gear.

“The culture changes, and it’s much more hands on instead of reacting to situations. Instead of being like, ‘Oh, we’ve gotten ourselves into maybe a mental rut’ or something like that, it would be very much a reactive response of the thorns to be like, ‘how can we solve this?’ Or actually, what we’re trying to do in ‘game-driving’, and drive a culture that actually anticipates ruts, and stops them from even occurring, if that makes sense?

Abby Dow of England Red Roses during the international friendly match between England Red Roses and Canada women at StoneX Stadium, London on Saturday 30 September 2023. Photo: James Whitehead/PPAUK

“I’m very intrigued and really inspired to jump into this culture change that we’re having. Because obviously, you’re going to have that with any new coach, the culture will be different. It’s not necessarily completely different or going away completely from our values, it’s the same way, with fresh air and just a newness to it, which I think is really good.”

One of the former Red Roses Thorns that has since become a key Game Driver, is England captain Marlie Packer. The back-row is on the cusp of a monumental accomplishment, as she will make her 100th England cap upon her next test match appearence. Expected to lead the way out in Parma, Packer is greatly admired for the accolade and will become just the seventh woman in history to rack up the century. Speaking on her inspirational captain, Dow said;

“I mean, there’s not many people who make 100 caps. I think that’s just one thing that you can easily say. That just shows you what sort of quality of a player she is. She’s captained our side for over a year now, or coming up to a year now, and she’s taking everything in her stride.

“Actually, the thing that I respect so much about her as my captain is how she’s willing to learn and wanting to grow, and how nothing’s set in stone. She’s really trying to push herself and that helps push the whole team, because actually a captain leads by example I would say in rugby, and she’s done a really good job of that.”

Marlie Packer, Captain of England Women celebrates with the Womens Six Nations Trophy during the TikTok Womens Six Nations Match between England Women and France Women at Twickenham, London on 29 April 2023 (Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

From Marlie’s 100th caps to players set to make their first, head coach Mitchell has called in three uncapped players to the England squad, that are eyeing up their test debuts in the Women’s Six Nations. The Exeter Chiefs pair of Maddie Feaunati and Lizzie Hanlon join the fray, alongside a player that Abby Dow goes way back with. Dow’s Trailfinders teammate Vicky Laflin has received her first senior call-up, and Dow discussed how the wing is stepping up and settling into life in the Red Roses camp.

“Vicky unfortunately has known me for way too long! We played in U15s and U18s together. So it’s been quite good in the sense that Vicky was actually in the U20s system was a lot of us. So a lot of us are quite similar in age, you’ve got like the likes of the Berners (Sarah Bern), the Jesses (Jess Breach), the Zoe Harrisons, the Holly Aitchisons, we all came through at the same age and Vicky was part of that as well.

“So actually, she knows how to play with the players, which is quite good, or at least they’re not brand new faces or brand new personalities, to not just get to know the player but get to know the person. So I think she’s really managing, she’s really settling into the team. I think there is a lot thrown at her, and certainly because it’d be like ‘ah, so as per last time, but here’s an extra bit of detail’, Vicky’s going, ‘hang on a second what was last time, let alone this extra bit of detail’.

“So I think she’s really striving and really pushing herself to the challenge. She’s fitting so well into the team and fitting so well into the culture as well, it’ll be so good to just see her relax and open up as she gets more and more weeks of training under her belt with this new team.”

Having shared the pitch together on countless occasions throughout their careers, Vicky and Abby took the plunge to sign with Trailfinders Women, ahead of the team’s first season in Premiership Women’s Rugby. Dow had a short journey to join the Ealing side, as she shifted across West London from her previous home at Harlequins. Laflin had a more unorthodox journey, as she was plucked out of free agency following the financial collapse of Worcester Warriors Women last October.

Currently sat at sixth placed in the PWR, the Trailfinders are finding their feet in the league with four wins and eight losses this season. Dow’s move from Harlequins was amongst the biggest transfers of the Summer, and the former Quin discussed her reasons for taking on the challenge with the brand new club. Dow discussed how the arrival of head coach Giselle Mathers was a significant influence, as the duo go back to their days at Wasps.

“I couldn’t have been prouder of the team that we have right now. We’ve had such a season of growth and such a season of potential and achievement as well. I think we came into this league with no one sure where we’re going to stand and what our expectations are, what people expected of us and what we even expected of each other. And I think we all took the plunge together.”

“You’re in a team, and you enjoy yourself in the now but you’re enjoying what our potential what our future holds as well. So I’m very happy to be part of that team.”

“She (Giselle Mathers) is literally one of the best coaches I know, she is absolutely crazy in her thoughts and ideas, but actually, they’re 100% Correct, which is why they’re so annoyingly crazy. She puts things and takes things into context that you’ve not thought about, she experiments, she pushes you mentally she presses you physically, she finds growth in areas you didn’t realise you needed to grow.

“She challenges you as a person as much as she challenges you as a player. You’re going to get performances, you’re going to get players who are there to drive the game forward, when you’re getting coached like. There was no choice for me when Giselle was at a club that I could go to.”

“As much as it was brand new, I knew who Giselle was, I knew who most of the coaching staff were. Because as much as it was (new), it wasn’t necessarily as new for me as it was some of the other girls, because I knew the people that were going to be coaching me and and leading this team from the top down. And I trusted them to know that they were good enough, and they are.”