Ireland 3 France 53
For the guts of an hour after the game the Irish players stayed on the pitch, mingling with family and friends, taking selfies with young supporters, smiling on all who smiled on them. What could anybody say? What consolation could be drummed up? They lost by more than they had ever done against France in the Six Nations, but probably played better than they had done against Wales in the first round. Which part of that is tolerable?
In other circumstances an outcome such as this would lead to all kinds of hand-wringing and recriminations, but to what end? There was no shortage of desire or honesty from the Irish players, and they never took a backwards step, but they were over-powered and outmanoeuvred and bamboozled by a French team that was miles better at everything. In every respect it was an unequal struggle.
France scored nine tries, seven of them after they were reduced to 14 players midway through the first half. Ireland’s numerical advantage made no difference to the run of play, and France’s grip on the game only tightened the longer it went on. Playing against a cross wind in the second half Ireland scarcely entered French territory. At no stage did the visitors become tired or satisfied and Ireland couldn’t wear them out.
The Ireland coach Greg McWilliams tried to put in a protective context: “France are number three in the world, they’re an outstanding side, even with a player down. Their skill set was stronger than ours, we saw that, we saw their ability to move the ball, to use their foot work to get to softer shoulders, to get their offloading game going. They played at a pace that we couldn’t live with. Now we’ve experienced that we can work to improve on that.
“I know what it’s like for these women going out there. I’m so proud of them. Things aren’t going their way, their backs are against the wall, their confidence at times was low, but the fight and resilience was better today. It needs to be better. We’re striving to be better. There is a gulf, but as long as we continue to own that, and have the responsibility of our actions, and work hard, we’ll get there eventually. I look forward to those moments.”
On Saturday, Ireland had no answers. Their spirit never failed, and if their discipline was poor at times it was just a symptom of how much pressure they were under. There were short bursts of cohesion in attack, and a handful of gain-line triumphs, but not enough to make a difference.
In an admirable display of solidarity the enthusiastic home crowd gave Ireland a standing ovation as they left the field at half-time, and again when they returned, but the gap in class between the teams was unmanageable. France had five tries on the board by the break and the game was emptied out as a contest.
Ireland simply couldn’t cope with France’s power and their blistering athleticism. The visitors’ half-backs, Pauline Bourdon and Carla Arbez, controlled with the game with their vision and dynamism, and Bourdon, especially, was irrepressible. She had two tries before half-time and would have had a third without a hugely generous pass to Gabrielle Vernier a couple of metres from the Irish line.
Young Dannah O’Brien did well on her debut at outhalf, and on a blustery afternoon her thoughtful, prodigious kicking provided Ireland with a reasonable share of field position in the first half. But Ireland’s visits to the French 22 were undone by bluntness or handling errors, or both.
The most promising Irish move ended when O’Brien was isolated in contact just a couple of metres short of the French line and the ball was poached by the French hooker, Agathe Sochat, midway through the first half. That was the closest Ireland came to scoring a try.
The French prop Annaelle Deshaye was red-carded for a high tackle on Deirbhile Nic A Bháird midway through the first half, but it didn’t change the momentum of the game. Within ten minutes Bourdon had crossed for both of her tries and by half-time France were 27-3 in front.
In the second half France didn’t give Ireland a moment to breathe. Souchat scored their sixth try, after a devastating rolling maul, 14 minutes after the break, and they essentially set up camp in the Irish half after that. For Ireland, there was no way out.
Ireland: M Deely; A Doyle, A Dalton, V Irwin, N Behan; D O’Brien, M Scuffil-McCabe; L Djougang, N Jones, C Haney; N Fryday, S Monaghan; D Wall, G Moore, D Nic a Bháird. Replacements: A McGann for Irwin 52 mins; E Swords for Scuffil-McCabe 52 mins; S McGrath for Haney 58 mins; B Hogan for Moore 58 mins; H O’Connor for Fryday 73 mins; L Delaney for Doyle 73 mins; K Buggy for Djougang 73 mins; C Neilsen for Jones 76 mins. Yellow card: Deely 69 mins
France: M Bourgeois; C Banet, M Ménager, G Vernier, C Boujard; C Arbez, P Bourdon; A Deshayes, A Sochat, C Joyeux; M Feleu, A Forlani; A Berthoumieu, E Gros, C Escudero. Replacements: C Lindelauf for Berthoumieu 25 mins; J Tremoulière for Arbez 52 mins; G Hermet for Gros 52 mins; A Khalfaoui for Joyeux 55 mins; A Chambon for Bourdon 59 mins; M Dupouy for Ménager 60 mins; E Riffonneau for Sochat 64 mins; M Picut for Forlani 68 mins. Sent off: Deshayes 69 mins
Referee: Hollie Davidson (SRU)