Ireland 5 France 21
By Brendan O’Brien, UCD Bowl
The temptation is to say ‘game over’ for Ireland after the host nation came out a distant second-best in this win-or-bust Pool C decider against a slick French side in the Women’s Rugby World Cup at Belfield tonight.
The reality is even worse: two more games up in Belfast to decide their final step on the ladder. First up, next Tuesday, is a second meeting with Australia. This is strictly off Broadway. New Zealand, England, France and the USA will decide the important stuff in the semi-finals.
Warm-up acts at their own gig: not what Ireland had in my mind.
Their opening pair of fixtures didn’t lend itself to optimism beforehand. While Tom Tierney’s team had struggled against Australia and Japan, the French had blown both away. Form, momentum, call it what you like but France were the ones bringing it.
Things looked grim from early on. France enjoyed more than 90% of the possession in the first quarter but it was the way they used it that caused most concern against an opponent that could do little more than scramble and plug whatever holes they could.
Inevitably, some of the remedial work proved to be beyond them.
There were heroic displays, from the centre Jenny Murphy and the tiny, inexperienced scrum-half Nicole Cronin in particular, both of whom put their bodies on the line time and again with tackles that would only stall the gathering storm momentarily.
There was less to say for the collective. It was all they could do to keep the scrum from creaking and the advantage of having the tournament’s tallest player in Marie-Louise Reilly in the lineout was undone by the French throwing beyond her to the rear.
Kudos there, few have managed that before.
But that was the thing about the French last night. They were sublime as a collective, on both sides of the ball, and they had within that a number of individuals who shone like beacons as the sun set on the UCD Bowl and the home team’s tournament ambitions.
The lock Lenaig Corson was irresistible with ball in hand until replaced with injury, a force of nature carrying Irish tacklers in her wake like children pulling at their mother’s apron. So too the No.8 Safi N’Diaye whose power was complimented by her skillset. .
The backs too were superb, all pace and penetration, excellent angles and delicious offloads.
Then again, you could have said that for the pack. An Irish tackler would lock down one approach and find themselves outflanked within seconds as play trundled on.
It was incessant.
The tries arrived with a depressing inevitability but they were something else to watch. The openside Romane Menager claimed the first after just seven minutes, rounding off a concerted period of pressure that stretched and snapped the put-upon defensive line.
Caroline Ladagnous put her hand up for the next two, after 14 and 29 minutes. All three were similar scores, direct yet fluid with a seamless transfer of ball between forwards and backs, but the last of them was particularly hard to digest.
Ireland had just enjoyed their best period in the minutes beforehand, Nora Stapleton pinning France back repeatedly with some accurate kicks from the hand, but their attack was just far too pedestrian through the hands to unduly trouble the French.
The first-half ended with Tierney’s team fire-fighting more than once to keep the gap at just the 21 - France had converted all three scores - and so Ireland faced into the restart attempting to make up a deficit for the third time in this tournament.
This one always looked beyond them.
They couldn’t be faulted for effort but execution has hamstrung them time and again this past nine days and, despite no little pressure, they saw promising attacks repeatedly spill through their fingers due to either handling errors or a turnover in the opposition 22.
Three of them were spoiled while Corson was serving ten minutes in the bin but the monumental defensive stint put in by France here can’t be overstated. It’s practise they will likely need ahead of a semi-final against England’s reigning champions.
The losses of Stapleton and Murphy to injuries didn’t help but Ireland finally claimed the try their second-half efforts merited when Cliodhna Moloney got over. The clock had already dipped into the red by then. The dream is over, everything from here on in is just treading water.
Ireland: H Tyrrell; E Considine, J Murphy, S Naoupu, A Miller; N Stapleton, N Cronin; L Peat, L Lyons. A Egan; S Spence, ML Reilly; C Griffin, C Molloy, P Fitzpatrick.
Replacements: C Moloney for Lyons (HT); H O’Brien for Spence (57); K Fitzhenry for Stapleton (61); L Galvin for Murphy (65); R O’Reilly for Egan (72); L Muldoon for Cronin and A Baxter for Griffin (both 76).
France: M Amédée; C Pelle, C Ladagnous, E Poublan, S Izar; C Drouin, Y Rivoalen; Deshayes, G Mignot, J Duval; A Forlani, L Corson; R Ménager, M Mayans, S N’Diaye.
Replacements: J Le Pesq for Rivoalen, L Arricastre for Deshaye, J Annery for Menager (all 47); P Carricaburu for Duval (49); C Grassineau for Izar (52); C Thomas for Mignot (65); C Neisen for Drouin (69); C Ferer for Mayans (73).
Referee: G Cooper (Australia).