France 25 Ireland 18
So, Fiona Coghlan's Ireland finish fourth at the World Cup and, like other Irish heroines before them, fall agonisingly short of the podium but, boy, did they go down fighting.
With plenty of help from Sherry Turnbull, who refereed the breakdown like the Sevens ref she is, they frightened the life out of France in Paris.
It ended with the French having to destroy them physically just to quell the revolt as, finally, in injury time, Les Blues streaked away with Elodie Guiglion’s second try.
"You saw the size of them," said Philip Doyle. "It's a physics thing. A lot of weight goes forward."
Take sub prop Elodie Portaries, who carried 107 kilograms onto the field for the last quarter.
Like the English semi-final defeat, Ireland engineered the perfect start. Some clever line kicking, a clear tactic to keep the big French pack turning, and a solid lineout brought them to the opposing try line. After five minutes of relentless pressure, Niamh Briggs crossed for her second try of the tournament.
Then she nailed the conversion. It needed to be another one of those flawless Niamh Briggs days. It wasn’t. But she doesn’t know when to quit. None of them do. Sounds a bit clichéd but most teams buckle in the face of enough adversity.
These Irish women won’t quit. Don’t know how.
France rumbled down field to level matters with Assa Koita, the 100 kilo lock, unstoppable.
Sandrine Agricole converted but the inspirational French outhalf was carted off after 28 minutes, moments after Briggs inched Ireland 10-7 ahead.
Back came France. With their crowd demanding a score, they proved irresistible inside Ireland’s 22. Despite some brave resistance, Jessy Tremouliere eventually dashed over in the left corner.
Ireland’s structured game kept them motoring but the contest was screaming out for a moment of quality. And luck. Or both.
Step forward Grace Davitt. The centre chipped the hard hitting Majorie Mayans, gaining the good fortune of two closing French defenders colliding, before re-gathering to barely make the line. Briggs' conversion hit the upright but Ireland, somehow, led 15-12 at the turn.
As expected, France exploded into the second-half. They came with everything, thundering up the middle, spinning it wide with trademark pace, running from deep, before finally sucking the life out of Ireland with their maul.
It came to Mayans on the left and she stalled enough to bring Baxter a step off her wing. Guiglion did the rest.
France’s eight changes in personnel really began to show. Doyle doesn’t have such luxuries. Ireland were under siege, deep in their own territory. France got a penalty and immediately demanded a scrum.
The scoreboard read 17-15 but it felt like any of the bad old days in Parc des Princes (the big brother overshadowing Stade Jean Bouin).
But Ireland, with a lot of help from Turnbull (swings and roundabouts; the Canadian’s whistle tortured them at Twickenham in February), showed the depth of their resilience to creep back into France’s 22.
Turnbull, penalising yet another French player for not releasing, gave Briggs a chance to put Ireland a point clear in the 61st minute. It was almost dead centre, about 35 metres out. It wobbled but got between the posts.
But on 65 minutes the French scrum earned a penalty for Tremouliere to make it 20-18.
The hosts unloaded their bench with top players while Ireland could only dig deep into their inner reserves.
Another Turnbull penalty against the French maul was on the edge of Briggs’ range so she went down the line but Heather O’Brien was adjudged to have juggled the lineout forward. French scrum. French penalty. France clear.
There came another breakdown penalty to Ireland for a French player not releasing. Briggs, even further out of her comfort zone, knew she needed to take the shot. Wide left, about 40 metres, amidst howls from the locals, it fell short.
The end came soon after. A warrior’s end.
Scoring sequence – 6 mins: N Briggs try, 0-5; N Briggs conv, 0-7; 12 mins: A Koita try, 5-7; S Agricole conv, 7-7; 26 mins: N Briggs pen, 7-10; 30 mins: J Tremouliere try, 12-10; 40 mins: G Davitt try, 12-15. Half-time. 46 mins: E Guiglion try, 17-15; 61 mins: N Briggs pen, 17-18; 65 mins: J Tremouliere pen, 20-18; 80 mins: E Guiglion try, 25-18.
France: J Tremouliere; S Izar, E Poublan, M Mayans, E Guiglion; S Agricole, J Troncy; L Arricastre, G Mignot (capt), C Chobet; S Rabier, A Koita; K Djossouvi, L Grand, S N'Diaye. Replacements: C Le Duff for S Agricole (28 mins), C Diallo for K Djossouvi (50 mins), E Portaries for C Chobet (57 mins), C Ladagnous for S Izar (65 mins), L Salles for G Mignot (67 mins), M Andre for L Grand, Y Rivoalen (both 75 mins).
Ireland: N Briggs; A Baxter, G DAvitt, J Murphy, A Miller; N Stapleton, T Rosser; F Coghlan (capt), G Bourke, A Egan; S Spence, ML Reilly; S Fleming, C Molloy, P Fitzpatrick. Replacements: H O'Brien for S Fleming (63 mins), L Muldoon for T Rosser (67 mins).
Referee: S Turnbull (Canada).
Referee: S Turnbull (Canada).