WOMEN’S RUGBY WORLD CUP POOL C
By Daire Walsh
A devastating opening period performance from France was the major difference at the UCD Bowl on Thursday night, as Ireland’s Pool C campaign in the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup ended in disappointment.
It is expected that Ireland will now renew acquaintances with Australia in a fifth-eight place play-off in Belfast on Tuesday, whereas France will join New Zealand, England and the USA in the last-four.
After making seven changes to his team for the game against Japan four days ago, Ireland coach Tom Tierney once again made significant alterations to his starting line-up for a crunch encounter with familiar foes.
Hannah Tyrrell’s relocation to full-back paved the way for Eimear Considine to indirectly replace Mairead Coyne, while the fit-again Jenny Murphy took over from Katie Fitzhenry – and renewed her centre partnership with Sene Naoupu.
However, despite getting on the scoresheet in the opening day success over Australia, Larissa Muldoon had to be content with a spot on the bench on this occasion. Her scrum-half role was taken by Nicole Cronin, who impressed on her international debut against the Japanese.
Former Dublin ladies footballer Lindsay Peat was retained in the front-row, and she was joined this time by Leah Lyons and Ailis Egan. The latter was one of seven Old Belvedere players in the Irish side, and this included the second-row pairing of Sophie Spence and Marie Louise Reilly.
Spence’s presence in the team allowed Paula Fitzpatrick to move back to the No 8 position that she filled during this year’s Six Nations, and with Ciara Griffin and skipper Claire Molloy on the blindside and openside respectively, it was clear that Ireland were preparing for a physical battle.
In earlier kick-offs, New Zealand and England had comfortably booked their places in the semi-finals of the tournament. Indeed, after Canada were resigned to a spot in the 5-8 place play-offs, it became a battle between the USA (who came away with a losing bonus point from their defeat to England), France and Ireland for the final two places in the penultimate round.
Though they had recorded back-to-back victories over Australia and Japan heading into this tie, the general consensus was that massive improvements were needed if Ireland were to repeat their Six Nations success against France in the nearby Donnybrook Stadium.
They held on to possession during the early moments of the action, but once France developed some attacking momentum, they showcased all the qualities that helped them to score 120 points in their opening two games of the tournament.
Full-back Montserrat Amedee was short of the target from an early 35-metre penalty, but even though Ireland out-half Nora Stapleton kicked the ball away to safety, Samuel Cherouk’s charges ultimately broke the deadlock in the seventh-minute.
After forcing Ireland on the back-foot, France moved the ball towards the right-hand side, where flanker Romane Menager was on hand to cross over the whitewash. This was an ideal start for France in front of a largely partisan crowd, and with Amedee making no mistake from the subsequent conversion, they had created a seven-point gap over their opponents.
This was a major set-back for the host nation, who were hoping to avoid a repeat of their lacklustre first-half display in the Japanese game. However, a powerful French side never allowed them to settle, and following excellent approach work by lock Lenaig Corson and Carolin Drouin, outside centre Caroline Ladagnous dotted down in spectacular fashion.
Winger Shannon Izar stepped up to the kicking tee on this occasion, and she enhanced her side’s advantage with a confident strike from a tricky angle.
It was already beginning to look worryingly ominous for Ireland, and although they were applying greater pressure on the French defence (Murphy in particular brought ferocious intensity to her game), they were facing into a 21-point deficit by the half-hour mark.
A lung-bursting charge for the line by prop Julie Duval was halted just in time by the retreating Irish rearguard, but she passed back for Ladagnous to comfortably secure her second converted try of the half.
Even though there was a lot of rugby still to play, France already had a bonus point in their sights. A crunching tackle from Murphy denied Chloe Pelle three minutes before the break, but with a 0-21 scoreline to contend with at the start of the second half, it was difficult to see how Ireland could turn the tables on their Les Bleus counterparts.
Cliodhna Moloney was introduced for Lyons in the front-row, and this did offer the Irish pack with some fresh impetus. The 44th-minute sin-binning of France’s Lenaig Corson also gave Ireland a temporary numerical supremacy, and they certainly were showing greater intent after the restart.
With France aiming to hold onto their already considerable cushion, Ireland were also seeing a lot more of the ball, and Murphy continued to carried forward effectively. Yet, try as they might, they were struggling to break down France’s disciplined defensive set-up.
They looked set to open their account on the hour mark, but in spite of the best efforts from Egan and Alison Miller (who spotted small gaps inside the French cover), they were eventually held up just shy of the line.
The Green Army persisted with their challenge as the half wore on, and despite losing both Stapleton and Murphy to injuries (they were replaced by Katie Fitzhenry and Louise Galvin respectively), they were keeping France on the back-foot for large spells.
Their momentum was too often halted by errors and turnovers, however, and this meant that France were never in danger of losing their grip on the proceedings. As the final whistle approached, heavy rainfall descended upon the Belfield venue, which added further gloom to the demise of Ireland’s World Cup aspirations.
Perseverance finally paid for Ireland on the stroke of full-time with a Moloney try at the end of a powerful maul, and while Tyrrell was wide of the mark from the resulting conversion, Ireland did at least have something to show for their efforts.
Scorers for Ireland: Cliodhna Moloney try.
Scorers for France: Caroline Ladagnous 2 tries, Romane Menager try, Montserrat Amedee 2 cons, Shannon Izar con.
IRELAND: Hannah Tyrrell (Old Belvedere/Leinster); Eimear Considine (UL Bohemians/Munster), Jenny Murphy (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Sene Naoupu (Harlequins), Alison Miller (Old Belvedere/Connacht); Nora Stapleton (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Nicole Cronin (UL Bohemians/Munster); Lindsay Peat (Railway Union/Leinster), Leah Lyons (Highfield/Munster), Ailis Egan (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Sophie Spence (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Marie Louise Reilly (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Ciara Griffin (UL Bohemians/Munster), Claire Molloy (Bristol/Connacht) (capt), Paula Fitzpatrick (St. Mary’s/Leinster).
Replacements: Cliodhna Moloney (Railway Union/Leinster), Ruth O’Reilly (Galwegians/Connacht), Ciara O’Connor (Galwegians/Connacht), Ashleigh Baxter (Cooke/Ulster), Heather O’Brien (Highfield/Munster), Larissa Muldoon (Railway Union/Ulster), Katie Fitzhenry (Blackrock/Leinster), Louise Galvin (UL Bohemians/Munster).
FRANCE: Montserrat Amédée (Montpellier RC/FFR); Chloé Pelle (Lille Métropole RC Villeneuvois/FFR), Caroline Ladagnous (AC Bobigny 93/FFR), Elodie Poublan (Montpellier RC), Shannon Izar (Lille Métropole RC Villeneuvois/FFR); Caroline Drouin (Stade Rennais), Yanna Rivoalen (Lille Métropole RC Villeneuvois); Annaëlle Deshayes (Ovalie Caennaise), Gaëlle Mignot (Montpellier RC) (capt), Julie Duval (Ovalie Caennaise), Lénaig Corson (Stade Rennais/FFR), Audrey Forlani (Blagnac Saint-Orens Rugby Féminin), Marjorie Mayans (Blagnac Saint-Orens Rugby Féminin/FFR), Romane Ménager (Lille Métropole RC Villeneuvois), Safi N’Diaye (Montpellier RC).
Replacements: Caroline Thomas (ASM Romagnat), Lise Arricastre (Lons Rugby Féminin Béarn Pyrénées), Patricia Carricaburu (Lons Rugby Féminin Béarn Pyrénées), Céline Ferer (AS Bayonne), Julie Annery (AC Bobigny 93), Jade Le Pesq (Stade Rennais/FFR), Carla Neisen (Blagnac Saint-Orens Rugby Féminin), Camille Grassineau (Stade Français/FFR).
Referee: Graham Cooper (Australia).