Rarely – if ever – has a Women’s Six Nations game attracted so much pre-match publicity, after Ireland decided to send three of their senior players away to Vegas for sevens instead of keeping them at home for this game. The Irish camp said it was all decided long ago, but were they throwing away a possible Six Nations challenge in a home World Cup year? The next 80 minutes suggested that the management had got it right, but it was a mighty close affair.
In recent years Ireland vs France has been the standout game of almost every Six Nations and as it turned out 2017 was no different.
The game began with a strong wind behind the Irish backs, and with the help of these conditions the Irish dominated possession in opening stages. Within five minutes they were camped on the French line, getting over the line at one point, but the French defence held firm.
Nonetheless play remain exclusively at the French end, with all of the advantages towards Ireland. Even the set pieces were going the Irish way as the conditions upset French line out throws.
A penalty chance was missed by Nora Stapleton after nine minutes, but two minutes later she got another chance when Romane Menager’s illegal attempt to hold back Claire Molloy at the scrum was spotted by the TV official – an unexpected side-effect of the improved TV coverage for this year’s Six Nations teams. Things players have managed to get away with in the past will not go unnoticed any more.
Stapleton’s second attempt was on target and Ireland were ahead 3-0.
However, that was the only score of the first half which, despite the conditions, ended with France in the ascendancy and maybe should have scored. Even so France went in a player up as Paula Fitzpatrick was shown yellow just before the break.
That player advantage soon came into play in the second half, with Caroline Ladagnous finding herself with a big overlap to score, with her try converted by a good kick from Tremouliere. France were 7-3 ahead.
Despite everything, Ireland’s reply was impressively strong, and even though they were a player down, they were soon on the French line. When Fitzgerald came back on it was France who almost immediately went down to 14 with Mayans in receipt of a yellow, and from the resultant lineout it was Ireland who drove over, Lyons getting the touch, and Stapleton the conversion. Ireland were back ahead 10-7.
France were making more errors now, with the backline not working nearly as well as it had and an important penalty missing touch. Even so as the hour approached the game was very even as a great kick from Stapleton put Ireland in a strong attacking position. Some epic French defence held Ireland out, but the Irish still went away with a penalty, and a 13-7 lead after 63 minutes.
A Tremouliere penalty pulled that score back a minute later, but now the wind that had favoured Ireland in the first half had largely died away and French errors were repeatedly losing any advantages they had.
Ireland took full advantage, and the resulting pressure lead to a second yellow card – this time against Lenaig Corson. With only 5 minutes left, Ireland were now player up and firmly inside the French 22. France briefly looked like breaking out, but a terrific clearance by Stapleton return the game to the French end as time ran out and Ireland, despite all that had gone before, were deserved winners by 13-10
The attendance at the game was reported as being 3,886, which could be a record for women's rugby in Ireland.
France (1-22): Lise Arricastre, Julie Duval, Lenaïg Corson, Audrey Forlani, Marjorie Mayans, Romane Ménager, Safi N'Diaye, Jade Le Pesq, Camille Cabalou, Shannon Izar, Elodie Poublan, Caroline Ladagnous, Camille Grassineau, Jessy Trémoulière.
Replacements: Caroline Thomas, Annaëlle Deshaye, Céline Férer, Laëtitia Grand, Yanna Rivoalen, Lucille Godiveau, Marine Ménager and Patricia Carricaburu.
Ireland: 1. Lindsay Peat (Railway Union / Leinster)2. Leah Lyons (Highfield / Munster)3. Ailis Egan (Old Belvedere / Leinster)4. Sophie Spence (Old Belvedere / Leinster)5. Marie-Louise Reilly (Old Belvedere / Leinster)6. Ciara Griffin (UL Bohemians / Munster)7. Claire Molloy (Bristol / Connacht)8. Paula Fitzpatrick (St. Mary's College / Leinster) Captain9. Mary Healy (Galwegians / Connacht)10. Nora Stapleton (Old Belvedere / Leinster)11. Eimear Considine (UL Bohemians / Munster)12. Claire Mc Laughlin (Cooke / Ulster)13. Jenny Murphy (Old Belvedere / Leinster)14. Kim Flood (Railway Union / Leinster)15. Mairead Coyne (Galwegians / Connacht)
Replacements: 16. Ciara O Connor (Galwegians / Connacht)17. Ilse Van Staden (Cooke / Ulster)18. Ruth O'Reilly (Galwegians / Connacht)19. Ciara Cooney (Railway Union / Leinster)20. Nichola Fryday (Tullamore / Connacht)
21. Larissa Muldoon (Railway Union)22. Nikki Caughey (Railway Union / Ulster)23. Louise Galvin (UL Bohemians / Munster)* *denotes uncapped player