Ireland fail to capture the energy of old despite supreme effort

Captain Claire Molloy: ‘They were just able to run around us in the first half too easily’

All week long it felt as though Ireland had frittered away belief in their effort and replaced it with hope. A poor game against Australia chased another and while Japan lost they somehow captured imaginations as Ireland slumped forwards.

Captain Claire Molloy and her team looked for some renewal against France in the final pool game and a leap into a Belfast semi-final and maybe too grasp the energy of a tournament opening up for them.

Ireland sought the game that had stopped New Zealand and won a Grand Slam in past years. But last night and perhaps for the last 10 days it refused to show.

“They were just able to run around us in the first half too easily,” said a disappointed Molloy.

“We ended the match very strong and we were delighted with the try in the end. It’s been an absolute honour to play in front of this crowd. It’s a great arena.”

With dark clouds billowing over UCD giving way to floodlights, a lively party mood kicked in at the arena as Ireland took to the pitch.

Coach Tom Tierney had changed half of the team and while there might have been a quiet desperation in Irish heads they began with certainty, hooker Leah Lyons taking the high ball from the start from French outhalf Caroline Drouin.

But it didn't take France long to lay down their foundation. A tall secondrow, a speedy fullback, a number eight with a red, white and blue scrumcap and coloured beads in her braided hair and then the bump strength and speed of openside flanker Romane Menager.

After that sequence less than 10 minutes had past but Ireland were silenced and already the game was shaping into a difficult arm wrestle against possibly the strongest side in the competition.

France were irrepressible with their tempo and strength and before 15 minutes had passed they had 14 points on the board and coaxing the crowd to change their perception of what the game was about.

The French dominance spoke more of a spectacle and form, of athleticism and their expression that the trophy is something easily within their grasp.

Ireland laboured more than competed and reacted more than created. The French controlled the shape and plays and while Ireland's bravery and the tackling of Molloy and outside centre Jenny Murphy caught the eye, the French held solid when Ireland held possession.

Ireland swept into the French 22 and then out towards the halfway line, passion and intent finding little purchase on the French line.

The Fields of Athenry arrived in the second quarter and to Ireland’s credit their fight refused to let France silence the crowd.

But there is rarely an answer for tempo and pace and how France released their finely conditioned players.

On the half hour Ireland went three converted tries down. The try third hurt. It came from Ireland knocking and knocking. It came from working the phases and hard won yards. After it all though, Ireland still went home skint.

All that effort for what? Seven points against. Half-time and 21-0 down.

"We are very disappointed. We wanted to win and be in a semi," said Alison Miller. "The better team won on the night. We wish them luck going forward. The French were good tonight but we showed heart to come back in that second half.

“Their line speed . . . Obviously difficult out there. They caught us sometimes and punished us there.”

Even Joe Schmidt, Seán O'Brien and Brian O'Driscoll in the stands couldn't coax them back from this.

France gave Ireland territory in the second half. But they didn’t give them opportunity. They gave them possession. But they didn’t give them space or time.

The French vim and menace dipped as they emptied the bench but France didn’t capitulate even after a series of mini battles won by the home team, the crowd screaming each inch as if a try.

In that, French enterprise won the first half and French defence won the second, Ireland’s overarching disappointment that their territorial dominance fizzled out not to return after a fierce defensive French scrum under their posts deep into the last quarter.

There it ended, a lone try in injury time from Cliodhna Moloney lighting up the night as the rain began to spill on the UCD Bowl, Ireland now playing for fifth to eighth place.

“They showed they are going to be one of the favourites and the girls did very, very well to keep it 21 points,” said Tierney. “There’s heart break in the changing room but that’s rugby.

“We just didn’t execute. They had their homework done in the maul and the contingency plans we had didn’t work out.

“We knew we had to score in the second half and score early. But their defence grew into it and stifled everything. The rain came a small bit later than we thought but at the end of the day 21 points was a mountain to climb.”