Ireland’s grit and determination light up night but France still prevail

Visitors hold on in Ashbourne as darkness falls on Ireland’s Six Nations hopes

Ireland 5 France 10
"You can't charge people €10 to stand in the rain for an hour with their children," said one of the 2,100 crowd. "This is Test rugby."

Never a dull moment. A blackout but dullness, not on your life.

The Irish women’s third meeting with France in 11 months followed a familiar theme; the visitors, so physically imposing, battered them but the green defence got to the floodlight failure level at 0-0.

Instead, somehow, they recovered to unearth new levels of resilience and return from the darkness (a dodgy filter in the generator, we were told) to warm the disgruntled yet loyal fans.


When France lock Marine De Nadai was sin-binned for illegally ruining Maz Reilly's impenetrable lineout maul, Ireland engineered a try for Ailis Egan.

Great night

It seemed like another great night was imminent until Caroline Boujard pounced on an intercept to race clear on 63 minutes.

Ireland’s problems were obvious and very hard to fix mid stream. But they mined a seemingly limitless well of character. A mangled scrum, an inability to climb the steep incline out of their own territory, yet still they almost won this bruising tussle.

Without a player to kick the ball 40 metres downfield, they were under constant pressure in the first half. At least Maz Reilly's towering defensive lineout kept the French in check. It forced them to avoid the touchline whenever possible and the two long range penalties from Jessy Tremouliere fell well short. The second almost resulted in a try as the bouncing ball got away from Niamh Briggs and into chasing French hands. Ireland survived. Luck played its part.

The visitors were their own worst enemy; a constant stream of handling errors denying them any joy from multiple raids into Ireland’s 22.

English referee Claire Hodnett also penalised their dominant scrum on several occasion and their huge forwards for going off their feet at many rucks.

But their power and size advantage eventually proved too much. It didn't seem possible for Paula Fitzpatrick, Claire Molloy, Heather O'Brien, Egan and the rest to keep up such punishment. Sophie Spence was blatantly targeted on two occasions. No punishment followed. The touch judges had a poor night.

Amidst all this Paula Fitzpatrick got a yellow card. That wasn’t right. When Hodnett sounded her whistle to end the first half after 47 minutes of constant punishment, Ireland were still level at 0-0.

The second half was a minute old when the lights went out. Utter darkness. The players returned to the changing room for what seemed an age. There followed two warm-ups and far too much confusion for the modern game.

But Briggs’ girls kept their composure. Spence was an inch short at the very end as France celebrated like they had retained their title.

They probably have.

IRELAND: N Briggs; A Doyle, J Murphy, K Fitzhenry, A Miller; N Stapleton, L Muldoon; R O'Reilly, G Bourke , A Egan; S Spence , ML Reilly; P Fitzpatrick, C Molloy, H O'Brien. Replacements: T Rosser for L Mulddon (53 mins), F Hayes for R O'Reilly (76 mins).
FRANCE: J Tremoulier, C Boujard , E Poublan, C Heguy, J Billes; C Cabalou , Y Rivoalen; L Arriscaste, G Mignot, J Duval; M Andre, M de Nadai; CT Diallo, L Grand, S N'Diaye. Replacements: P Rayssac for L Grand (34 mins), E Portaries for J Duval (half-time), C ferer for M De Nadai (57 mins), L delas for C Boujard (79 mins).
Referee: Claire Hodnett (England).

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent