'We'll have to go toe-to-toe with France'
Besides actual success, all the Ireland women’s rugby team want is respect.
Just a little bit.
When Philip “Goose” Doyle talks about tonight’s meeting with France, he drags you back to another time, a club house bar and a grizzled old forward speaking in hushed tones about the beatings he shipped in Parc des Princes over the years.
Basically, there’s no clue to the gender he is speaking about. It is a conversation about rugby, about Ireland against France.
“We’ll have to go toe-to-toe with them,” says Doyle. “It’s always that way with France, and this French team is no different. It’ll be real old-style rugby. They will maul us up and down the field all day if we let them.
“And if that stalls they have the pace in the three quarters to tear us apart. They are capable of both.”
Like any French side of old then?
“That’s how they play. But we’ll be okay. The girls are in a good head space.”
Goose is right about that. Spend a few moments in their company and it’s immediately obvious that you are surrounded by a special bunch of sportspeople. Spend 80 minutes watching them wrestle with their nerves before eventually nailing down a first Triple Crown a fortnight ago and it’s equally obvious they are deadly serious about their work.
The best way to give this team respect is to write about the individuals that make them so special.
That must start with Fiona Coghlan.
Ireland couldn’t settle into the game against Scotland in the rugby outpost of Lasswade RFC near Edinburgh. When a player of the experience and skill set that Lynne Cantwell possesses starts making handling errors you know something collective was seriously malfunctioning.
It was 3-all after 23 minutes.
The management on the sideline had gone silent. From behind us in the stand, Goose let a roar at the referee. Ireland kept getting penalised at scrum time.
Someone needed to grab the contest by the scruff of the neck.
Coghlan didn’t do anything extravagant. She merely showed the other seven forwards the way with a rumbling carry into the Scottish 22. No more than 10 metres were covered, but the others followed.
Laois Gaelic footballer Alison Miller wasn’t long sprinting over in the left corner. The backrow took over.
If Ireland are to overcome France in Ashbourne this evening and go on to capture the Grand Slam in Milan Sunday week, it will have an awful lot to do with the work of Siobhan Fleming, Claire Molly and number eight Joy Neville.
Fleming, a Kerry women, and Molloy, an Exile, simply don’t know when to quit. If permitted by New Zealand’s most experienced female official, Nicky Inwood, the flankers will wreck havoc at the breakdown.
Surely a Kiwi will allow them to do their thing. They both tackle like lunatics while Molloy has an eye for the prairie.
Neville is a bit special. At a break in play against Scotland the ball trickled towards her, she casually flicked it up with her toe, following it high into the sky before catching one-handed and giving it to scrumhalf Larissa Muldoon. From that scrum, she had it tucked under her arm welcoming the latest collision.
However, in Safi N’Diaye she faces a significantly bigger opposite number.
In fact, they all do.
The most obvious gems in the Irish side are Cantwell and Jenny Murphy; Ying and yang.
If outhalf Nora Stapleton is seeking to unlock the French defence with subtlety, she will skip wide to Cantwell, almost everything creative revolves around her wristy offloads. If a more uncompromising option is required, the Murphy crash ball should deliver. Think Jamie Roberts with frizzy long hair. Out the back Niamh Briggs must kick her goals when not running freely.
Also, Cantwell will not have the time or space she enjoyed against Scotland as France’s line speed will be quicker.
Like their male counterparts, the French can’t be underrated just because they lost to Italy. Atrocious weather played a significant role in that 13-12 defeat. The return of regular fly-half Aurelie Bailon, although the Montpelier player is held in reserve, could matter late on but from the start Sandrine Agricole will direct matters as she did in the 30-20 defeat of England at Twickenham.
That and Les Bleus 32-0 thrashing of Wales is fore-warning, but Ireland have the tools to prevail. A victory that would leave them on the precipice of history.
IRELAND:N Briggs (Munster); A Baxter (Ulster), L Cantwell (Exiles), J Murphy (Leinster), A Miller (Connacht); N Stapleton (Leinster), L Muldoon (Exiles); F Coghlan (Leinster, capt), G Bourke (Munster), A Egan (Leinster); S Spence (Exiles), M L Reilly (Leinster); S Fleming (Munster), C Molloy (Exiles), J Neville (Munster). Replacements: S-L Kennedy (Ulster), F Hayes (Munster), L Day (Exiles), L Dargan (Exiles), L Guest (Munster), A Davis (Ulster), G Davitt (Ulster), N Kavanagh (Munster).
FRANCE: C Ladagnous; J Billes, M Mayans, L Godiveau, E Guiglion; S Agricole, M-A Yahe (capt); H Ezanno, G Mignot, E Portaries; S Rabier, D Nadai Marine; C Tombe Diallo, L Grand, S N’diaye. Replacements: L Salles, A Koïta, C Chobet, L Corson, M Andre, J Tremouliere, A Bailon, J Le Pesq.
Referee: N Inwood (New Zealand).