Ireland go back to basics to resist French at Donnybrook

Title challenge still on course after tight win in stop-start affair

Ireland 13 France 10

Winning dominates any sporting narrative. Despite the loss of seemingly irreplaceable backs – captain Niamh Briggs, Sene Naoupu and Ali Miller – Ireland remain on course for another Grand Slam.

In a stop-start affair, not helped by the conditions, they took the lead after 10 minutes when Claire Molloy was held from breaking off a scrum. Nora Stapleton, who hit the post with an earlier penalty, slotted the goal.

That was it for scores in the opening 40 minutes. While there’s clear improvement in continuity from the opening rounds in Scotland and Italy, handling errors denied any sort of entertaining spectacle. That was not helped by Ireland’s most skilful players boarding a plane to Las Vegas, to play Sevens, as the game kicked off.

The slippy ball didn't help but Jenny Murphy did show occasional signs of how important she can become for this team by making decent yardage with straight, powerful carries.

Molloy was also to the forefront with some excellent defending on the stroke of half-time and they survived with Murphy moving from centre to number eight, due to Paula Fitzpatrick’s sinbinning.

But France initially looked more likely to cut loose. Finally, two minutes into the second half, they offloaded three times across the pitch for Elodie Poublan to put fellow centre Caroline Ladagnous sprinting over at the Bective Rangers end. Jessy Tremouliere added a difficult conversion amidst the squalling rain.

Ireland did what they usually do under duress; cranking their maul into gear, the initial two drives were repelled, but when openside Marjorie Mayans was sinbinned, Stapleton kicked to touch once more and the pack rumbled over with Leah Lyons rising from the heap of bodies.

Stapleton, who has clearly been working on her technique in the absence of the hamstrung Briggs, converted and Ireland led 10-7 with 51 minutes gone.

This sparked the crowd and contest to life. France were guilty of multiple mistakes but some were forced by Murphy leading the defensive charge.

Ireland were playing with confidence now, looking every inch the cohesive unit of previous campaigns as experienced scrumhalf Larissa Muldoon returned from exile to put the one-out runners motoring down field.

Stapleton kept the pressure on with a clever kick deep into French territory. English referee Sarah Cox awarded Ireland another Irish penalty, when several French bodies refused to roll away, so Stapleton nudged the ball into touch yet again. Lyons hit Maz Reilly off the top, Ailis Egan and then Lindsay Peat were stopped short but another try seemed certain.

It didn’t happen and Stapleton elected to kick another three points after the umpteenth penalty for French players being offside.

That felt like a missed opportunity as not two minutes later a Tremouliere penalty made it 13-10.

Unforced errors reigned supreme. From the restart France quickly coughed up a penalty but Stapleton kicked it long and dead. France 22.

But the Irish pack, where Sophie Spence looks to be nearing fitness levels that automatically make her one of the best locks in the world, kept inching their bigger opponents backwards.

When France lost another player to the bin – Lenaig Corson for more spoiling on the deck – Ireland really should have shut this contest down.

France were awful, Ireland much improved but there is loads of work to be done on the basics if the 3,886 crowd are to swell.

Next home game is England on Sunday March 19th. Ireland could be seeking a third Six Nations title in four years.

Scoring sequence – 10 mins: N Staleton pen, 3-0. Half-time. 42 mins: C Ladagnous try, 3-5; J Tremouliere con, 3-7; 51 mins: L Lyons try, 8-7; N Stapleton con, 10-7; 63 mins: N Stapleton pen, 13-7; 65 mins: J Tremouliere pen, 13-10.

IRELAND: M Coyne; K Flood, J Murphy, C McLaughlin, E Considine; N Stapleton, M Healy; L Peat, L Lyons, A Egan; S Spence, ML Reilly; C Griffin, C Molloy, P Fitzpatrick (capt).

Replacements: L Muldoon for M Healy (51 mins), C Cooney for C Griffin (67 mins).

FRANCE: J Tremouliere; C Grassineau, C Ladagnous, E Poublan, S Izard; C Cabalou, J Le Pesq; L Arricastre, G Mignot, J Duval; L Corson, A Forlani; M Mayans, R Menager, S N'Diaye.

Replacements: M Menager for C Cabalou (38-40 mins and 51 mins), P Carricaburu for J Duval, C Ferer for L Arricastre, A Deshayes for A Forlani (all 67 mins), C Thomas for G Mignot, L Grand for R Menager (both 71 mins).

Referee: S Cox (England)

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent