The Ireland Women ended their World Cup journey with a best ever finish of fourth place after falling to France in a bruising 3rd/4th place play-off tie in Paris.
Elodie Guiglion scored a brace of second half tries, finishing off good build-up work from the French pack who really came to the fore during the closing 40 minutes at Stade Jean Bouin.
The girls in green may have suffered back-to-back defeats at the business end of the tournament, but it will not take away from the historic achievements of the squad and departing head coach Philip Doyle over the past 17 days.
Niamh Briggs' converted try in the sixth minute had launched Ireland into an early lead but tries from Gaelle Mignot and Jessy Tremoulière pushed France 12-10 ahead, with Briggs sandwiching in a penalty.
That looked set to be the half-time scoreline until an opportunist injury-time try from centre Grace Davitt - making her fifth start of the tournament - handed Ireland a 15-12 advantage.
France's superior scrum and maul then saw them dictate play in the third quarter with winger Guiglion released for an unconverted 47th minute try.
Ireland edged ahead again in the 61st minute thanks to the right boot of Briggs. However, France were finding scores easier to come by - a Tremoulière kick made it 20-18 - and after Briggs missed a difficult penalty the home side confirmed third spot with Guiglion's second try of the afternoon.
The mammoth French pack managed to unsettle the very first Irish scrum, but Doyle's charges engineered the first scoring chance as their maul gained good yardage and Jenny Murphy, Paula Fitzpatrick and Alison Miller all punched holes in the defence.
Les Bleues were under all sorts of pressure as Sophie Spence was held up twice over the try-line, before full-back Briggs nipped between two defenders to touch down to the right of the posts.
France came back strongly, threatening from quickly-taken penalties as Christelle Chobet and Safi N'Diaye, who bounced off Nora Stapleton, got them within sight of the whitewash.
They turned down a kickable penalty and it proved to be a wise decision as they drove through from a close-in lineout and captain Mignot scored with Sandrine Agricole's conversion going over off the woodwork.
France disrupted another Irish scrum but good work in the tackle by skipper Fiona Coghlan - and at the breakdown by Spence and Siobhan Fleming - led to a long range minute penalty attempt which Briggs pulled to the right.
A terrific poach by Davitt saw Ireland maintain control of possession and territory, aided by a muscular midfield burst by Murphy and some good clearing out by the likes of Ailis Egan and Gillian Bourke.
Briggs made no mistake with a brilliantly-struck 35-metre penalty to edge Ireland back in front at 10-7, with France suffering a setback when an accidental knee in the back forced the influential Agricole off.
Ireland's scrum issues came back to haunt them though, the home side turning them over five metres from the Irish line and although Ashleigh Baxter did well initially to save a certain try les Bleues worked a second successive overlap on the left to send full-back Tremoulière over.
Christelle Le Duff, Agricole's replacement, failed to convert and the two-point buffer looked set remain up to the interval despite Ireland's best efforts to release Miller out wide and build from their maul.
One of their best opportunities came from an excellent touch-finding kick by Briggs, but Bourke's throw went over the back of the lineout and nervy France survived. That was until the first minute of injury-time when Davitt's delicate chip into the 22 bounced back perfectly for her to gather and break a tackle before reaching over for a rousing score.
The bounce of the ball saw two French defenders collide and a third also hit the deck as Davitt gobbled up possession to dart away and put her side back in front. But the luck was on France's side when Briggs' conversion attempt hit the near post and went wide.
The experienced Le Duff was narrowly wide with a penalty effort two minutes into the second half, but France were on the front foot and quickly picked up their third try.
Their maul did the initial damage in front of the posts before some crisp passing put Guiglion over in the left corner past Baxter. Le Duff's conversion spiralled away to the right of the posts.
Although the scrum was still problematic, Ireland looked threatening when they got clean ball and moved it quickly with the excellent Fitzpatrick, Murphy and Claire Molloy all capable of getting over the gain-line.
Stapleton and Tania Rosser were also showing greater control at half-back and with France's discipline letting them down at times, Briggs grasped the chance to boot Ireland into an 18-17 lead on the hour mark.
Ireland dug deep to defend successive French mauls, however France's scrum drove the girls in green back off their own ball and Tremoulière's resulting close range penalty kick saw the lead change hands once more.
The French fell foul of referee Sherry Trumbull's whistle again entering the closing stages, allowing Briggs to have a shot at the posts in the 71st minute but the angle proved too difficult.
As Ireland probed for openings, they were being isolated by France and played into their hands at times. Les Bleues' defence tightened up significantly and they saw out a hard-fought victory thanks to Guiglion's side-stepping finish past the 80-minute mark.
Ireland Women: Tries: Niamh Briggs, Grace Davitt; Con: Niamh Briggs; Pens: Niamh Briggs 2
France Women: Tries: Gaelle Mignot, Jessy Tremoulière, Elodie Guiglion 2; Con: Sandrine Agricole; Pen: Jessy Tremoulière
IRELAND WOMEN: Niamh Briggs (UL Bohemians/Munster); Ashleigh Baxter (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster), Grace Davitt (Cooke/Ulster), Jenny Murphy (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Alison Miller (Portlaoise/Connacht); Nora Stapleton (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Tania Rosser (Blackrock/Leinster); Fiona Coghlan (UL Bohemians/Leinster) (capt), Gillian Bourke (UL Bohemians/Munster), Ailis Egan (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Sophie Spence (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Marie Louise Reilly (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Siobhan Fleming (Tralee/Munster), Claire Molloy (Bristol/Connacht), Paula Fitzpatrick (St. Mary's College/Leinster).
Replacements used: Heather O'Brien (Highfield/Munster) for Fleming (64 mins), Larissa Muldoon (Bristol/Exile) for Stapleton (68). Not used: Sharon Lynch (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Kerrie-Ann Craddock (Saracens/Exile), Laura Guest (Highfield/Munster), Jackie Shiels (Richmond/Exile), Hannah Casey (Saracens/Exile).
FRANCE WOMEN: Jessy Tremoulière (Romagnat); Shannon Izar (Lille), Elodie Poublan (Montpellier), Marjorie Mayans (Saint-Orens), Elodie Guiglion (Perpignan); Sandrine Agricole (Rennes), Jennifer Troncy (Montpellier); Lise Arricaste (Lons), Gaelle Mignot (Montpellier) (capt), Christelle Chobet (Lons), Sandra Rabier (Ovalie Caennaise), Assa Koita (Bobigny), Koumiba Djossouvi (Montpellier), Laetitia Grand (Lons), Safi N'Diaye (Montpellier).
Replacements used: Christelle Le Duff (Perpignan) for Agricole (29 mins), Comba Diallo (Bobigny) for Djossouvi (51), Elodie Portaries (Montpellier) for Chobet (58), Caroline Ladagnous (Lons) for Izar (66), Laetitia Salles (Lons) for Mignot (68), Yanna Rivoalen (Lille) for Troncy, Manon André (Saint-Orens) for Grand (both 76).
Referee: Sherry Trumbull (Canada)