The Ireland Women’s wait for a first Six Nations win on French soil goes on after les Bleues blitzed them for four tries in front of a 9,632-strong Toulouse crowd.
Tries from Cyrielle Banet, Jade Le Pesq, Jessy Trémoulière gave the clinical hosts a 17-0 half-time lead, with Ireland - despite some solid approach work - emerging scoreless from their two first half visits to the 22.
In what was new head coach Adam Griggs’ first competitive match at the helm, newly-appointed captain Ciara Griffin, Claire Molloy, Sene Naoupu and new cap Megan Williams stood out as Ireland improved in the second period.
However, individual errors cost them at times and they had to play with a patched-up pack after knee injury victim Ciara Cooney was stretchered off. In the end, France’s class told as Le Pesq completed her brace and registered the bonus point with seven minutes remaining.
Ballybofey native Laura Feely, who came on in the closing stages, was the second Irish player to make their debut, and this new-look squad will certainly grow and develop in the coming weeks as they face into three successive home games at Donnybrook.
A helter-skelter start at Stade Ernest Wallon saw openside Molloy gobble up a loose ball, but Trémoulière inspired a superb counter from a Niamh Briggs kick and Lindsay Peat had to react quickly to haul down Romane Ménager short of the try-line.
Full-back Trémoulière sent her first penalty attempt wide but France were very much on the front foot, Caroline Boujard looking lively before a neat necklace of passes put Banet over in the right corner in the sixth minute, past two poor attempted tackles from Claire McLaughlin and Kim Flood.
Ireland’s response was a positive one, Anna Caplice doing well to turn over a maul and Alison Miller and Molloy both testing the French defence as the visitors gained some welcome territory.
By the 20-minute mark, the girls in green had the bit between their teeth as successive penalties saw them march to the five-metre line but a crooked throw from Cliodhna Moloney - and a subsequent penalty won by Ménager after Molloy had stolen a lineout - let France off the hook.
France carried more variety and thrust in their attacking arsenal, Pauline Boudon’s clever kick in behind Williams exposing the Irish defence and the ball sat up nicely for Boujard to feed Le Pesq who outpaced Flood to the line with Trémoulière converting.
Boudon and Boujard continues to cause problems as les Bleues used their pace and offloading to get in behind Ireland again, Flood making a last-ditch tackle to deny Yanna Rivoalen before numbers on the left saw Trémoulière crash over in the 33rd minute for a 17-0 lead. The latter missed a penalty attempt on the stroke of half-time after Briggs was whistled up for a tackle off the ball.
When play resumed, Ailsa Hughes’ misplaced pass spoiled a promising early spell, and Ireland had to knuckle down in defence with tireless centre Naoupu putting in some crucial tackles as France unleashed their dynamic attack.
The introduction of former captain Paula Fitzpatrick boosted the Irish pack, before a late hit on Briggs went unpunished by referee Ian Tempest who, having viewed the replays, felt Celine Ferer had not followed through.
A long injury stoppage for lock Cooney, who fell awkwardly on her knee at a lineout, saw Ciara O’Connor introduced into the front row with Fitzpatrick moving to the second row and hooker Moloney switching to the back row.
Entering the final quarter, Miller got a rare change to stretch her legs up towards halfway but France continued to threaten at regular intervals, play-maker Bourdon brilliantly jinking past two defenders before Flood just reached the out-half’s kick through ahead of her.
Ireland found a chink of light with 11 minutes remaining, Naoupu’s lovely delayed pass sending Williams up the right wing and she regathered her own chip with great determination. The forwards edged closer to the posts before Flood frustratingly knocked on a low-slung pass.
Williams showed her class in defence soon after, as Banet shrugged off three tacklers on a classy break from deep before the Old Belvedere clubwoman raced across from the opposite wing to prevent a certain try.
However, there was nothing she could do when Trémoulière injected pace into a 73rd minute attack and replacement Audrey Forlani’s impressive offload had Le Pesq raiding in from the right wing to seal the bonus point.
Trémoulière’s well-struck conversion made it a 24-point winning margin, and as Miller and Ireland rallied late on in the hope of taking some momentum into next Sunday’s encounter with Italy, another handling error - this time Mairead Coyne knocked on - thwarted them just when they had the French defence back on their own line.
3 minutes - France penalty: missed by Jessy Trémoulière - 0-0; 6 mins - France try: Cyrielle Banet - 5-0; conversion: missed by Jessy Trémoulière - 5-0; 25 mins - France try: Jade Le Pesq - 10-0; conversion: Jessy Trémoulière - 12-0; 33 mins - France try: Jessy Trémoulière - 17-0; conversion: missed by Jessy Trémoulière - 17-0; 40+2 mins - France penalty: missed by Jessy Trémoulière - 17-0; Half-time - France 17 Ireland 0; 73 mins - France try: Jade Le Pesq - 22-0; conversion: Jessy Trémoulière - 24-0; Full-time - France 24 Ireland 0
Jessy Trémoulière (Stade Rennais Rugby); Caroline Boujard (Montpellier RC), Jade Le Pesq (Stade Rennais Rugby), Camille Boudaud (Stade Toulousain), Cyrielle Banet (Montpellier RC); Pauline Bourdon (AS Bayonnaise), Yanna Rivoalen (Lille Métropole RC Villeneuvois); Lisa Arricastre (Lons Rugby Féminin Béarn Pyrénées), Agathe Sochat (Montpellier RC), Julie Duval (L'Ovalie Caennaise), Celine Ferer (AS Bayonnaise), Safi N'Diaye (Montpellier RC), Marjorie Mayans (Blagnac Rugby Féminin), Gaelle Hermet (Stade Toulousain) (capt), Romane Ménager (Lille Métropole RC Villeneuvois).
Marine Ménager (Lille Métropole RC Villeneuvois) for Boujard (46 mins), Gaelle Mignot (Richmond RFC) for Sochat, Patricia Carricaburu (Lons Rugby Féminin Béarn Pyrénées) for Duval (both 50), Dhia Traore (Stade Toulousain) for Arricastre, Audrey Forlani (Blagnac Rugby Féminin) for Ferer (both 53), Coumba Diallo (AC Bobigny 93) for R Ménager, Gabrielle Vernier (Lille Métropole RC Villeneuvois), for Rivoalen (both 59), Emma Coudert (ASM Romagnat Rugby Féminin) for Bourdon (68), Bourdon for Banet (71).
Kim Flood (Railway Union/Leinster); Megan Williams (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Claire McLaughlin (Cooke/Ulster), Sene Naoupu (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Alison Miller (Old Belvedere/Connacht); Niamh Briggs (UL Bohemians/Munster), Ailsa Hughes (Railway Union/Leinster); Lindsay Peat (Railway Union/Leinster), Cliodhna Moloney (Railway Union/Leinster), Fiona Reidy (UL Bohemians/Munster), Ciara Cooney (Railway Union/Leinster), Orla Fitzsimons (St. Mary's/Leinster), Anna Caplice (UL Bohemians/ Munster), Claire Molloy (Bristol/Connacht), Ciara Griffin (UL Bohemians/Munster) (capt).
Nichola Fryday (Tullamore/Connacht) for Fitzsimons, Paula Fitzpatrick (St. Mary’s/Leinster) for Caplice (both 45 mins), Leah Lyons (Highfield/Munster) for Reidy (50), Ciara O’Connor (Galwegians/Connacht) for Cooney, Mary Healy (Galwegians/Connacht) for Hughes (both 56), Mairead Coyne (Galwegians/Connacht) for McLaughlin (66), Nikki Caughey (Railway Union/Ulster) for Briggs, Laura Feely (Galwegians/Connacht) for Peat (both 75).
Ian Tempest (England)