French rout confirms fears of ever-widening gulf between countries

Head coach Adam Griggs reacts to Ireland’s 56-15 Six Nations defeat to France

"Let's be realistic in terms of this group of players," Niamh Briggs intervened on RTÉ immediately following the shellacking. "Bar Boulard, every single French player has been playing rugby since under-eights."

Emilie Boulard being the electric fullback who eclipsed Eimear Considine’s constant efforts to spark Ireland to life under a big hard Donnybrook sun.

IRFU performance director David Nucifora recently stated that any talk of professionalism is a "distraction" before adding that the focus "must be getting more girls and women to play the sport."

Unfortunately, a three-year plan to transform the All-Ireland League into a “sustainable high performance competition” – according to the Women in Rugby Action Plan (2018-23) – has been decimated by the pandemic. Funding, or a lack thereof, is now the central issue.


It was encouraging to see the masked Australian duo standing behind the goal posts at the Bective Rangers end. Nucifora and Anthony Eddy, the IRFU women's director of rugby, went into conclave as the amateur Irish trailed 38-8 at half-time.

The next 40 minutes confirmed fears of an ever-widening gulf between countries that contract players and the rest. The solution, as Fiona Coghlan noted last week, is "not going to be quick and it is not going to be cheap."

Ireland, error strewn and courageous in equal measure, were wiped off the artificial grass. Their shining young lights, Béibhinn Parsons and Dorothy Wall, were assiduously tracked and nullified, as France cut loose with eight tries to ruin pre-match hopes of the Six Nations championship delivering a competitive game.

Ireland’s malfunctioning set piece denied them any chance of living with a French team that has never looked so well conditioned or attuned to each other’s desire to offload.

True reflection

Ireland head coach Adam Griggs quietly bemoaned the absence of club rugby for over a year while France, England, New Zealand plough ahead. He spoke about Italy, potentially refixed from Parma to Dublin this Saturday, providing a true reflection of where his squad currently resides in an increasingly worrying pecking order.

“Well, the destination at the moment is the World Cup,” said Griggs of the 2022 tournament Ireland have yet to qualify for. “We are coming up against one of the teams, in Italy, that we will be playing in those qualifiers so we want to lay down a marker and show we are worthy of third place in the Six Nations.”

Griggs was asked if this result was a reality check for the woman’s game in Ireland.

?”Yeah, I suppose you could frame it that way but at the same time, we got France on a good day,” Griggs countered. “I do believe we are getting better in terms of what the squad is producing, and I know the scoreline does not reflect that. But I do think we are growing, certainly in the right way.”

Doses of reality were everywhere. Ireland's scrum was obliterated by 21 year-old tighthead Rose Bernadou, working off the power surge generated by locks Madoussou Fall and Safi N'Diaye.

France knew full well that Ireland's lightweight midfield lacked the physicality that Jenny Murphy once guaranteed. Parsons will never forget Cyrielle Banet's try, when the French wing stripped the ball off the teenager and sprinted away, while Wall struggled in the shadow of N'Diaye and the outstanding Marjorie Mayans.

Perhaps the sight of Nucifora, who expertly streamlined the men’s professional game, and Eddy, who constructed a Sevens system that funnels players into 15s, standing behind the goal signifies the start of a strategic plan that meticulously builds a pathway from under-eights into the Ireland jersey.

Dr Claire Molloy has played for Ireland since 2009. She was equal to this French backrow for many of those years. Despite a demanding career in emergency medicine, that requires a commute from London to Wales, she keeps returning to the international coal face.

“They are the same backrow we have faced before,” said Molloy. “They brought the same physicality that they have brought over the years. I don’t think that has changed. Our set piece really let us down.

“We want to peak for the World Cup qualifiers. This was us putting in a performance against a semi professional side. We know there is a gap there. That is not something, as players, we can control.”

The lack of control over their desired future has become the Irish player’s mantra.

"The likes of Dorothy Wall and Beibhinn Parsons, " Molloy added, "they performed against a Welsh side the week before and were stars on the pitch. Now, we need them to perform against world class opponents. That's an invaluable experience for them."

Italy versus Ireland is a battle for third place in the Six Nations between the seventh and eight best teams in the world. The next rung on the ladder is currently out of reach.

Scoring sequence – 5 mins: H Tyrrell pen, 0-3; 13 mins: C Boujard try 5-3; C Drouin con, 7-3; E Boulard try, 12-3; C Drouin con, 14-3; Pen Try, 21-3; 25 mins: C Moloney try, 21-8; 29 mins: C Drouin pen, 24-8; 34 mins: S N'Diaye try, 29-8; C Drouin con, 31-8; 38 mins: C Boujard try, 36-8; C Drouin pen, 38-8. Half—time. 45 mins: C Banet try, 43-8; 55 mins: R Menager try, 48-8; 65 mins: C Drouin pen, 51-8; C Banet try, 56-8; 74 mins: E Hooban try, 56-13; S Flood con, 56-15.

Ireland: Eimear Considine; Lauren Delany, Eve Higgins, Sene Naoupu, Béibhinn Parsons; Hannah Tyrrell, Kathryn Dane; Lindsay Peat, Cliodhna Moloney, Linda Djougang; Aoife McDermott, Nichola Fryday; Dorothy Wall, Claire Molloy, Ciara Griffin (capt).

Replacements: Brittany Hogan for McDermott, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe for Delany (both 48 mins), Hannah O'Connor for Molloy, Emily Lane for Dane, Stacey Flood for Tyrrell (all 53 mins), Emma Hooban for Peat, Katie O'Dwyer for Moloney, Laura Feely for Djougang (all 59 mins).

France: Emilie Boulard; Cyrielle Banet, Carla Neisen, Jade Ulutule, Caroline Boujard; Caroline Drouin, Laure Sansus; Annaëlle Deshaye, Agathe Sochat, Rose Bernadou; Madoussou Fall, Safi N'Diaye; Marjorie Mayans, Gaëlle Hermet (capt), Emeline Gros.

Replacements: Clara Joyeux for Bernadou, Romane Menager for Gros (both 48 mins), Pauline Bourdon for Sansus, Coumba Diallo for Hermet (both 56 mins), Maïlys Traoré for Deshaye, Gabrielle Vernier for Neisen (both 62 mins), Morgane Peyronnet for Boujard, Laure Touyé for Sorchat (both 66 mins).

Referee: Sara Cox (RFU)

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent