Ireland must be on top form if they are to send France packing

Jessy Trémoulière’s absence for the visitors is a major plus for Ireland on Saturday

Women’s Six Nations: Ireland v France

Kick-off: 2.15pm, Saturday. Venue: Energia Park, Donnybrook. On TV: Live on RTÉ Two.

Some competitive rugby is needed to put a positive spin on the Women’s Six Nations. To date, from four fixtures, the lob-sided 217-13 scoreboard puts the onus on amateur Ireland to somehow live with semi-professional France.

This is possible.

The French were marketing the fixture around world player of the decade Jessy Trémoulière but the dashing fullback is a not part of Annick Hayraud’s travelling squad, so that’s a good start for Ireland.

“Can we play through them? Can we play around them? Can we play over the top of them?”

Ireland coach Adam Griggs seemed to be talking directly to his players as he identified the need to out fox a France outfit that oozes power and élan.

“Look, I think it’s going to be incredibly tough,” said Fiona Coghlan, the former Ireland captain who knows a little about the French assignment. “We looked at France play Wales and Ireland play Wales. Wales didn’t give much opposition to either.

“In the French game their starting team had a few surprises as the likes of Jessy Trémoulière and Safi N’Diaye were on the bench; these are key players for France.”

N’Diaye returns to the second row, providing the grunt for freewheeling backrow trio Marjorie Mayans, captain Gaëlle Hermet and Emeline Gros to run riot.

If the Irish backrow - Ciara Griffin, Claire Molloy and Dorothy Wall - can dominate the tackle on both sides of collisions the chance of a famous victory will materialise.

“They are a big marauding pack, who can play ball and they use the maul an awful lot,” said Coghlan. “I don’t think Ireland had to defend a maul against Wales. That will be interesting to see how it goes.”

Watch what happens when Ireland does win solid set piece possession on the right side of Donnybrook’s smooth track. Sene Naoupu will demand rapid delivery into midfield before throwing a wide pass for fullback Eimear Considine. At this moment, the French line speed will attempt to block supply to Béibhinn Parsons.

Putting Parsons through midfield, perhaps trailing an initial charge by Wall off first phase, might be the best method of giving the Ballinasloe winger a chance to dance around or steam over an isolated defender.

However Griggs draws up the play, the sight of Considine, Parsons and Wall in full flight is how Ireland can turn the visitors into a walking cliché of sulking French players.

“Looking at the teams on paper I would say France are stronger,” Coghlan continued, “but France, we know, don’t like to travel. In 2017 they came here and they lost to Ireland against all the odds. They went to Scotland last year and it was a draw, even though Scotland weren’t really good enough.

“France just did not perform at all. It depends on what French mindset they are in.”

It can always go the other way.

Hannah Tyrrell was pulled from the Ireland lineup in 2017 to play Sevens. The fully converted outhalf is crucial to everything this team seeks to do. A former Gaelic footballer, the Dubliner must kick her goals and lift the pressure when the French pack inevitably makes a mistake.

There is growing evidence that this Ireland side has a capable enough middle management to turn their best players into stars.

“I think our scrummaging, the body shape of the props Linda Djougang and Lindsay Peat is certainly better,” said Coghlan, a former loosehead, “and as an eight they seem to look like they are all on the same page. There has definitely been an improvement there, and with Aoife McDermott back in the lineout as well, that gives them go-to ball.

“There is definitely improvements but it’s hard to know where they are at. They certainly weren’t tested against Wales.”

That is certain to change here. Hayraud has made eight changes, five in the backline as Sevens players preparing for Tokyo return to the fold, so watch out for scrumhalf Laure Sansus, before the equally dangerous Pauline Bourdon arrives off the bench, while left wing Cyrielle Banet is a lethal finisher.

A competitive Test match will suffice but this Irish group retain grand ambitions and, to them, the thrill of just playing a game is not enough.

The known unknown is how France will emerge from cold storage. Their mood should still dictate the result.

Ireland: Eimear Considine (UL Bohemian/Munster); Lauren Delany (Sale Sharks/IQ Rugby), Eve Higgins (Railway Union/Leinster), Sene Naoupu (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Béibhinn Parsons (Ballinasloe/Blackrock College/Connacht); Hannah Tyrrell (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Kathryn Dane (Old Belvedere/Ulster)); Lindsay Peat (Railway Union/Leinster), Cliodhna Moloney (Wasps/IQ Rugby), Linda Djougang (Old Belvedere/Leinster); Aoife McDermott (Railway Union/Leinster), Nichola Fryday (Blackrock College/Connacht); Dorothy Wall (Blackrock College/ Munster), Claire Molloy (Wasps/IQ Rugby), Ciara Griffin (Captain)(UL Bohemian/Munster).

Replacements: Emma Hooban (Blackrock College/Leinster), Katie O'Dwyer (Railway Union/Leinster), Laura Feely (Blackrock College/Connacht), Brittany Hogan (DCU/Old Belvedere/Ulster), Hannah O'Connor (Blackrock College/Leinster), Emily Lane (Blackrock College/Munster), Stacey Flood (Railway Union/Leinster), Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe (Railway Union/Munster).

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

Replacements: Laure Touyé, Maïlys Traoré, Clara Joyeux, Coumba Diallo, Romane Menager, Pauline Bourdon, Morgane Peyronnet, Gabrielle Vernier.

Referee: Sara Cox (RFU).

Verdict: Ireland win.

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