Meadows relishing new role

From learning from Brian Ashton, to juggling childcare, the England attack coach talks about life in the Red Roses camp and developing her career working with a side seeking to evolve.

Published by Ali Donnelly, April 19th, 2024

9 minute read

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Meadows relishing new role

Lou Meadows' appointment as the attack coach for the number one ranked women’s team in the world is a reminder of the importance of women backing themselves for senior roles, regardless of whether they feel 100% ready.

Having quickly climbed the ranks as a coach after she finished playing, with experiences including at Ealing Trailfinders and with England Counties U20s, she had been the England women U20s coach just a few months when the Red Roses head coach role was advertised.

“When I saw it, I talked to some of my friends about the fact I wanted to put my hat in the ring, not because I thought I was ready, but to show I was ambitious and that I really wanted to push as far as I could in my career, and that I believed I could offer a lot to the programme.”

“I hadn’t done many formal coaching interviews and been through a process like that, so I felt even to experience that would be huge.”

Meadows was away with the U20s when she got the call for an interview, a process she described as excellent, offering her an amazing shop window as an aspiring coach in front of the decision-makers of the English game.

“I knew that I was unlikely to get that role, but I was so glad I’d put myself forward even if it came to nothing.”

She was asked to go and meet Conor O’Shea, presuming she was about to be let down gently.

“We’d just lost to France in the 20s, so I thought maybe it was connected to that or he was letting me down in a nice way. He actually told me they felt I offered something different to the programme and then offered me the attack coach role. Once I knew then that I’d be working with someone of John Mitchell’s experience, it was just really all about making sure I could make it work from a family perspective.”

Meadows isn’t just working with Mitchell and his experience, but also closely with Brian Ashton, one of the world's most accomplished coaches, who at 77 is still offering a huge amount as a consultant supporting the team, and someone she cites as providing invaluable support to her.

“The level of detail Mitch brings in is incredible – even how we plan one session. He is several steps ahead. Brian is around a lot too, and I have a very strong relationship with him. He’s got such a wealth of knowledge, and I am lucky to be able to tap into it, and we speak all the time."

Meadows has two young boys, Kai (4) and Braydon (8), and cites the support of a wide circle of family and friends as key to making the role work.

“There’s the guilt of being away from your kids as a Mum obviously and if anything happens, like the childcare falls through or the kids are sick, that is very tough, but we have great support from a whole community including my parents, our school parents, the football team the kids play for, everyone is there to help out.”

Having played for Wasps and Saracens, Meadows knows lots of the England players personally, and thinks that far from that being a tough transition from friend to player, that it’s been a help.

“I have always been strong on the importance of a balanced player-coach relationship and that not being hierarchical. You care about the players, and you have to if you want to push them and challenge them but also allow them to be honest and vulnerable. You need to have a strong connection, so to have that with some of the players already is a bonus.”

After a nervy first day in the job, she feels she’s settled in well.

“The only nerves I had coming in was on that first day – I didn’t actually know the lay of the land and how things worked or what the protocol was. I am pretty sure I spent half of my first day walking around with my rucksack on my back because I had no idea where people even put their stuff.”

Her role as attack coach has come at a time when England are trying to evolve their attacking game, from overreliance on forward strength, to a more all-court and less predictable game.

How would she explain what England are trying to do?

“The only reason space becomes available on the edge is because of the multiple threats in the middle. Ultimately if I can make every single player on the team a threatening player – carry, pass, and kick, you can’t ignore them.

"Sometimes players get ignored or they are predictable.

“You think - she’s a kicker, she will kick it, that player always carries - she’ll just tuck and carry, and when that happens across a team, you’re vulnerable to being targeted. We want to make sure we mix things up and that every player can move the ball.

“All our players are having to improve to help us play like that. Physically you have to be fitter and faster and they also technically have to continue to improve – things like catch, pass, transfer are a big focus for us, carrying and breaking contact, ruck speed, and so on.”

England play an Ireland team at the weekend, riding high after a win against Wales, and in front of a huge crowd at Twickenham. Ominously Meadows says that her team is riding in third gear still, but that the key will be not to force things against an improving Irish side.

“They will try and slow us down, and they are very good in the collision work. If we run into them, they can punish us, so we have to be smarter and trust our plan and if it doesn’t come we don’t force it and lay in all the right areas of the pitch.

“They have a ten with a fantastic boot too, and we’ll get pinned back if we don’t close that down or leave space.”

When England played at Twickenham last year, Meadows says some of the players were taken aback by the huge crowds and noise that greeted their arrival – so much so it took them a while to settle, so the team will arrive at least a full hour earlier on Saturday.

With her kids as mascots, it could be one of her best days as a coach.

As one of the few female coaches in the elite women's game, she has swiftly become a role model for others, and she quickly acknowledges those who have contributed to her own journey and who support her.

"I've a lot of great male allies who I can turn to in the game for guidance - coaches like Matt Everard for example and then women like Jo Yapp and Giselle Mathers have always been huge inspirations to me.

"When I first saw Giselle coaching the London Irish Academy boys, I knew immediately that's what I wanted to do. I'd say that my ultimate role model though is my Mum, who has navigated hugely challenging HR roles in her career, often as the only woman in the room. She's given me so much guidance and support that I count myself incredibly lucky."