France Women 18 Ireland Women 6
France's two-try first half salvo saw the Ireland Women lose 18-6 in tonight's Women's RBS 6 Nations showdown in Perpignan.
A maul try from French captain Gaelle Mignot and a superb solo effort from winger Caroline Boujard gave the hosts a 15-6 half-time lead, with skipper Niamh Briggs booting two penalties for Ireland.
Costly individual errors and poor execution let Tom Tierney's side down as Laura Delas' 70th-minute penalty sealed Ireland's fate.
France, who were beaten to last year's Championship title by Ireland on points difference, started with a high tempo, using big number 8 Safi N'Diaye to crash the ball up and also threaten through their midfield backs.
Young out-half Audrey Abadie nailed a sixth minute penalty after Briggs had strayed offside.
Briggs was just a pass away from going over for the opening try, a short pop from Sene Naoupu falling out of the onrushing full-back's hands following a powerful maul towards the left corner.
Both sides were guilty of crooked lineouts and Ireland used the territory to force a levelling penalty, Paula Fitzpatrick and Heather O'Brien carrying strongly before Briggs' place-kick went over off the right hand post.
Fitzpatrick had to leak a penalty as the French maul - a very potent weapon last week against Italy - almost made it over in the right corner. However, from the very next lineout drive, hooker Mignot rumbled over for an unconverted 21st minute try.
Ireland fell further behind just three minutes later, Briggs being turned over in the tackle by Elodie Poublan just inside the French half and she released Boujard for a terrific burst up the touchline and try in the corner which Abadie did really well to convert.
Ireland were struggling to get quick ruck ball - and were not helped by referee Jess Beard's interpretation - but a bout of sustained pressure, including a close-in scrum, an advancing maul and a midfield dart from Aine Donnelly, led to three-pointer from Briggs, straight in front of the posts.
Marie Louise Reilly claimed a crucial lineout steal as France tried to repeat Mignot's maul score and while Fitzpatrick and Ruth O'Reilly also won back possession in contact, poor ball protection from Ireland allowed France to force quick turnovers in response.
Ireland's issues at the breakdown were evident again on the resumption, a neat break by Briggs, which saw her link up with Mairead Coyne, being ruined by a sloppy turnover at the ruck.
Replacement prop Lindsay Peat's high tackle allowed Abadie to kick France into the right corner, but Fitzpatrick, Cliodhna Moloney and Peat combined to hold up a dangerous drive and win turnover ball.
A bandaged-up Claire Molloy increased her influence with a ruck poach and a lineout steal, but she had to be replaced shortly after an excellent 30-metre maul from the Irish pack.
Ireland let France off the hook when Peat was penalised for a double-movement as she almost made it over via five-metre lineout, and the error count increased with a mix-up between Reilly and Ciara Griffin at the next lineout and winger Coyne also knocking on.
Larissa Muldoon mishandled a relieving kick from the French and les Bleues had a serious surge towards the try-line through the strong-carrying Arkya Ait Lahbib and N'Diaye, before Sophie Spence and replacement Ciara Cooney - one of ten newcomers in this season's squad - rescued the situation for Ireland.
Julie Annery's powerful break was stopped by a high tackle from Briggs, with the resulting penalty from winger Delas giving her team a 12-point cushion with 10 minutes remaining.
That was effectively the difference between the sides as France showed a clinical edge when it mattered most. A slick Irish back-line move finally released Elise O'Byrne White on the right wing. She was tackled five metres short and with the support slow, France lifted the pressure with another ruck penalty.
Improved midfield distribution from eager replacements Nora Stapleton, Jackie Shiels and Mary Healy saw Ireland end the game on the attack and pressing for an elusive try.
The Irish endeavour could not be questioned, but too many times France held the edge in defence, isolating green shirts in the contact area, and collectively they proved too strong on the night. The learning curve will continue for Tierney's new-look squad in two week's time against England at Twickenham.
6 minutes - France penalty: Audrey Abadie – 3-0;
15 mins – Ireland penalty: Niamh Briggs – 3-3;
21 mins – France try: Gaelle Mignot – 8-3; conversion: missed by Audrey Abadie – 8-3;
24 mins – France try: Caroline Boujard – 13-3; conversion: Audrey Abadie – 15-3;
33 mins – Ireland penalty: Niamh Briggs – 15-6;
Half-time – France 15 Ireland 6;
45 mins – France penalty: missed by Audrey Abadie – 15-6;
70 mins – France penalty: Laura Delas – 18-6;
Full-time – France 18 Ireland 6
FRANCE WOMEN: Julie Billes (Montpellier); Caroline Boujard (Montpellier), Lucile Godiveau (Bobigny), Elodie Poublan (Montpellier), Laura Delas (Tarbes); Audrey Abadie (Blagnac-Saint Orens), Yanna Rivoalen (Lille-Métropole RC Villeneuvois); Lise Arricastre (Lons), Gaëlle Mignot (Montpellier) (capt), Julie Duval (Ovalie Caennaise), Celine Ferer (Bayonne), Audrey Forlani (Blagnac-Saint Orens), Laëtitia Grand (Lons), Pauline Rayssac (Montpellier), Safi N'Diaye (Montpellier).
Replacements used: Arkya Ait Lahbib (Stade Rennais Rugby) for Arricastre (52 mins), Romane Menager (Lille-Métropole RC Villeneuvois) for Forlani (54), Laure Sansus (Stade Toulousain) for Rivoalen, Patricia Carricaburu (Lons) for Duval (both 58), Julie Annery (Bobigny) for Rayssac (61), Camille Imart (Stade Toulousain) for Abadie (64), Agathe Sochat (Stade Bordelais ASPTT) for Mignot (74).
IRELAND WOMEN: Niamh Briggs (UL Bohemians/Munster) (capt); Elise O'Byrne White (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Aine Donnelly (Cill Dara/Leinster), Sene Naoupu (Galwegians/Connacht), Mairead Coyne (Galwegians/Connacht); Nikki Caughey (Railway Union/Ulster), Larissa Muldoon (Skewen); Ruth O'Reilly (Galwegians/Connacht), Cliodhna Moloney (Railway Union/Leinster), Ailis Egan (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Sophie Spence (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Marie Louise Reilly (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Paula Fitzpatrick (Toulouse), Claire Molloy (Bristol), Heather O'Brien (Toulouse).
Replacements used: Ciara Griffin (Tralee/Munster) for Molloy (36 mins-half-time, blood sub), Griffin for O'Brien, Lindsay Peat (Railway Union/Leinster) for O'Reilly (both 48), Ciara Griffin (Tralee/Munster) for Molloy (56), Mary Healy (Galwegians/Connacht) for Muldoon, Nora Stapleton (Old Belvedere/Leinster) for Caughey, Jackie Shiels (Richmond) for Donnelly (all 66), Zoe Grattage (Tralee/Munster) for Moloney (70), Fiona Reidy (UL Bohemians/Munster) for Egan (74).
France: Tries: Gaelle Mignot, Caroline Boujard; Con: Audrey Abadie; Pens: Audrey Abadie, Laura Delas
Ireland: Pens: Niamh Briggs 2
HT: France 15 Ireland 6
Referee: Jess Beard (New Zealand)