Abby Dow, the England full-back, faces a race against time to be fit for this year’s World Cup after suffering a broken leg in her side’s win over Wales on Saturday.
Dow sustained the injury just 15 minutes into the match at Kingsholm after being caught awkwardly in a tackle, with her screams picked up by the pitch side cameras. Play was stopped for more than a quarter of an hour as the Wasps player received medical attention, before she was taken off the pitch on a stretcher.
On Sunday, the Rugby Football Union confirmed Dow, a three-time Six Nations champion, was “comfortable” in hospital and would undergo surgery.
In a statement, the body said: “Everyone at England Rugby sends their best wishes to Abby and wishes her a full and speedy recovery. On behalf of Abby, we’d like to thank England supporters and the wider rugby family for the messages of support we have received following Saturday’s match.”
England will now have to complete the rest of their Women’s Six Nations campaign without their elusive full-back, who had been nailed-on to make Simon Middleton’s squad for the World Cup. As one of the Red Roses’ most consistent performers, Dow scored in England’s demolition of Scotland on the opening weekend of the championship and has been their most threatening attacking back in recent seasons.
Off the pitch, the 24-year-old is a popular member of the squad and famed for her pun-filled social media posts. Speaking after Saturday’s match, Middleton, the England head coach, said Dow was a “quality player and great friend of everyone on the team” and conceded her injury initially “rattled” his side of her against a fired-up Wales outfit that wilted after the break.
“You could feel everybody was subdued for a bit and the performance was like that which is understandable,” he said. “It’s part and parcel of contact sport sadly, but you never want to see that.”
Dow, a 24-time capped international who made her England debut in 2017, could realistically make a comeback in time for October’s World Cup and will take heart from the speedy recovery Emily Scarratt recently made from a broken leg she sustained in September last year. Scarratt suffered the injury on the opening day of the Premier 15s season and recovered in time to start in England’s win over Scotland a fortnight ago.
Dow’s recovery will be dependent on the severity of the injury and her rehabilitation time after surgery, although as a contracted England player, she will receive the highest level of medical support from the RFU.
Who could replace Dow?
While England will miss Dow’s electric pace – not to mention her excellent defensive game – they are hardly lacking in options to replace her. Ellie Kildunne and Sarah McKenna both have a lot of experience in the position, although the latter has impressed on the wing recently.
Heather Cowell, the Harlequins winger who burst onto the Test scene last autumn, could also step up. Cowell is currently contracted as a sevens player, but her role within the XVs squad might now take on greater importance.
Dow’s injury is a cruel reminder that injury can strike at any given time, but the fact that she has already featured in two of England’s Six Nations games is big a positive.
Middleton was keen to see the bulk of his squad in action over England’s first three games, but he will now have to think about what attacking cards he wants to deal for the rest of the tournament without one of his best players.
“Now we’ve got the fallow week, we’ll take stock, have a look back over the three games and then put down on paper what we think is the right combination for Ireland,” he said.