Brian Ashton (rugby union)

William Brian Ashton MBE (born 3 September 1946) is an English rugby union coach and former player. He has been head coach of the England and Ireland national teams.

Brian Ashton
Birth nameWilliam Brian Ashton
Date of birth (1946-09-03) 3 September 1946 (age 74)
Place of birthLeigh, Lancashire
SpouseMonica Ashton (divorced)
Occupation(s)Rugby Coach
Rugby union career
Position(s) Coaching Consultant
Current team Vale of Lune RUFC
Amateur team(s)
Years Team Apps (Points)

Tyldesley RUFC
AS Montferrand
Teams coached
Years Team
Stonyhurst College
England (asst.)
King's School, Bruton
Bath Rugby (asst.)
Bath Rugby
England A
Bath Rugby


Ashton was born 3 September 1946 in Leigh, Lancashire to a textile weaver mother and coal miner father Albert, who played professional rugby league on the weekends for Leigh RLFC in 1940.[1] He earned a place at Lancaster Royal Grammar School – one of the few local schools to teach and play rugby union over rugby league.

Playing historyEdit

After leaving school, Ashton started working for Trustee Savings Bank in their international banking division then Midland Bank at Farnworth, Bolton. Keith Elleray, his old games master from Leigh Grammar, took him to Tyldesley RUFC, where Ashton played fly-half in his first season in 1965–6, before Elleray retired and Ashton took over his preferred position of scrum-half for 1966–67.[1]

Although offered professional terms by various rugby league clubs, Ashton moved to Fylde – where his teammates included Roger Uttley and Bill Beaumont – and then to Orrell from 1973 to be closer to his Leigh home.[1] On finding his chances limited, he started training as a school teacher, where his first posts were at Ashton High School, brought about by the head master's requirement to introduce rugby, and Hutton Grammar School, Preston.[citation needed]

Ashton was in the England squad which toured Australia in 1975, playing in one game, but was never capped – the closest he came was as an unused replacement on 15 March 1975 against Scotland. He also played representative rugby for Lancashire, England North and the Barbarians.

His friend Dick Greenwood – England international and later father of Will Greenwood – persuaded Ashton to extend his career by playing in France for AS Montferrand, and then in Italy with Roma and Milan. As a result, he speaks Italian.[2]

Coaching careerEdit

Ashton was persuaded to return to England in 1980 to take up the position of history teacher and rugby master by then assistant-bursar Dick Greenwood at Stonyhurst College[3] where Kyran Bracken was a pupil at the time and to whom he taught history.[4] His local teaching counterparts included Ray French.[1]

Ashton met Jack Rowell in the summer of 1985, when he toured New Zealand as assistant coach with England A. Four years later Ashton was offered an accepted a job as backs coach job at Bath, moving to teach history and coach various sports at King's School, Bruton, Somerset from 1989, where his wife also worked as a teacher.

Working under Jack Rowell, he helped establish Bath as the dominant team in English rugby for a decade to the mid-1990s.[citation needed] He took over as head coach from Rowell in 1994, and led Bath to their last domestic trophy in 1996.

Ashton then had a brief and unsuccessful spell as National Coach of Ireland from 1997 to 1998. He had been awarded a six-year contract by the IRFU but resigned 12 months later after a series of disappointing results,[5] and against a background where arguments or disagreements with the team manager, Pat Whelan, were frequently aired in public.

Ashton was Clive Woodward's assistant with England from 1998 to 2002, and was the RFU's National Academy Manager from 2002 to 2005. In this role Ashton played a key part in the launch of England Rugby's National Academy system, creating the Junior and Senior National Academies to develop the most talented players at England A, Sevens, Under 21 and Under 19 level.[citation needed] Ashton also coached some of these feeder teams, including England A.[6]

Ashton returned to Bath as head coach at the start of 2006, but was appointed as England attack coach from May 2006 to assist head coach Andy Robinson, alongside forwards' coach John Wells and defence coach Mike Ford.

In December 2006 Robinson was dismissed, and Ashton was appointed England head coach.[7][8] He chose Phil Vickery as his captain. Ashton won his first two games in charge of the England team, firstly the Calcutta Cup tie against Scotland and secondly beating Italy at Twickenham, but led the English team to a crushing defeat against the Irish National Team on his third outing. The 43–13 defeat by Ireland was England's worst ever defeat by Ireland in the 132 years of competition between the two sides.

England's 2007 Rugby World Cup campaign started badly: the team only narrowly beat the amateurs of the United States, and went on to lose 36–0 to South Africa. However, having finished their group as runners up, they recorded a shock victory over Australia, won a very tight semi-final against France 14–9, and lost a closely fought final to South Africa 15–6. Despite criticism of his management, Ashton was reconfirmed as manager of England with an indefinite length contract, on 20 December 2007.[9][10]

England finished second in the 2008 Six Nations, losing games to Wales and Scotland. On 16 April 2008 Martin Johnson was appointed England team manager with effect from 1 July 2008, with Ashton leaving the post immediately. Ashton was offered the role of head coach of the RFU's National Academy, but declined this position.[11]

He was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2008 New Year Honours.

In September 2008 he was appointed director of coaching[12] at the University of Bath and also successfully coached Oxford University to victory in the 2008 Varsity match.[13]

In June 2010 Ashton returned to his old club Fylde to become a coaching consultant to the senior squad. He said he is prepared to contribute as much time as he can spare to assisting Head Coach Mark Nelson in the development of Fylde's senior squad. Fylde won National League 2 North 10/11 and Ashton signed for Fylde for the 2011/12 season as Technical Director.[14]

Ashton has previously said, "My main strength is as a coach. I see my job as improving players individually, to do the technical work with them, and also to establish the environment, the framework, in which the players operate." Ashton's philosophy is that the backs comprise three creative forces (the scrum-half, the fly-half and the inside-centre) and four penetrative finishers (the outside- centre, the two wings and the full-back).

Teams coachedEdit

Team Role Date from: Date to: Notes
Stonyhurst College Rugby coach 1980 1988
England Assistant coach 1985 1985 Tour of New Zealand[15]
King's School, Bruton Rugby coach 1987 1994
Bath Rugby Assistant coach 1989 1994
Head coach 1994 1996
Ireland Head coach 1996 1998
England Assistant coach 1998 2002 Managed England A and Churchill Cup team
National Academy Manager 2002 2005
Bath Rugby Head coach 2005 2005
England Attack coach 2006 2006
Head coach 2006 2008 took team to final of 2007 Rugby World Cup

International matches as head coachEdit

Note: World Rankings Column shows the World Ranking England was placed at on the following Monday after each of their matches

Matches (2007–2008)
Match Date Opposition Venue Score
Competition Captain World


  1. ^ a b c d Ashton's long road to Paris, via Leigh and Tyldesley The Guardian – 19 October 2007
  2. ^ Ashton eager for Capello meeting BBC Sport – 20 December 2007
  3. ^ College's England rugby links Lancashire Telegraph
  4. ^ Stonyhurst College's Rugby World Cup Connection Archived 24 March 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Ashton announces resignation from Ireland team Archived 17 December 2007 at the Wayback Machine Irish Examiner
  6. ^ Brian Ashton to coach England A Archived 20 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine RFU press office – 27 January 2005
  7. ^ England appoint Ashton to top job BBC Sport – 20 December 2006
  8. ^ Robinson is forced out by England BBC Sport – 29 November 2006
  9. ^ Ashton handed 'indefinite' deal The Guardian – 20 December 2007
  10. ^ Ashton reconfirmed as English national coach BBC Sport – 20 December 2007
  11. ^ Rugby Football Union – England Rugby – RFU Management Board statement[permanent dead link]
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 19 September 2008. Retrieved 19 September 2008. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link) CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) Team Bath
  13. ^ "Oxford hold off Cambridge for narrow victory". ESPN scrum. Retrieved 19 February 2019.
  14. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 30 April 2011. Retrieved 19 April 2011. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link) CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) Fylde Rugby Club News
  15. ^ Brian Ashton – profile Eurosport

External linksEdit

Sporting positions
Preceded by
  Murray Kidd
Irish national rugby coach
Succeeded by
 Warren Gatland
Preceded by
 Andy Robinson
English national rugby coach
Succeeded by
 Martin Johnson