Women keep Grand Slam dream alive
Ireland 13 France 10
Ireland Women put last week's distractions to one side as they ground out a gritty win over France to take a big step towards repeating 2013's Grand Slam success.
Hooker Leah Lyons' second-half try was crucial as Ireland kept pace with England at the top of the table and remained on course for a St Patrick's Day showdown with the Red Roses.
Ireland were without Sene Naoupu, Alison Miller and Hannah Tyrrell who yesterday flew to Las Vegas for next weekend's Sevens World Series tournament but, led by the outstanding Jenny Murphy, the hosts' 13-10 victory was another move in the right direction.
Afterwards, Tom Tierney insisted that his players hadn't been distracted by losing the key trio and when asked at what stage did he know that he would be without them, the head coach responded:
"When myself and Ant (Eddy, head of Irish Women's rugby) sat down."
How long ago was that?
"I can't remember."
Tierney was visibly annoyed by the coverage on the issue this week, saying: "Some of the chat that's going on is just ridiculous and you can't argue with it. You just leave it go. Thankfully in a weird way, I've been used to media stuff like that as a player.
"It's not being taken away, it's a squad and we've got two forms of the game. The key was that we didn't let the girls be affected which was critical and thankfully they weren't."
Ireland's sluggish start wasn't helped by the conditions but their set-piece, the lineout in particular, was a constant weapon. Nora Stapleton kicked the only points of a dull first half and three minutes after the restart Caroline Ladagnous' try for France sparked Ireland into life.
Jessy Tremouliere's conversion put France into a 7-3 lead as the visitors capitalised on Ireland captain Paula Fitzpatrick being in the sin bin since late in the first half.
Marjorie Mayans followed Fitzpatrick into the bin shortly after and then it was Ireland's turn to make their numerical advantage count.
Marie-Louise Reilly, who was a towering presence in the lineout, fed the impressive Sophie Spence and there was no stopping the powerful rolling maul as Lyons crashed over.
Stapleton added the extras to put Ireland in front again and as France lost their discipline, the out-half again punished them. Tremouliere's penalty left Ireland facing a nervy final 15 minutes but Lenaig Corson's late yellow card ended any hope of France completing the comeback.
"We're very, very sure of ourselves, thankfully," Tierney added. "When we're competitive here and on the Sevens World Series, it justifies everything. It's about driving the women's game.
"The thing is, what is it, February? The World Cup isn't until August and that's our thinking. We're giving everyone absolutely every opportunity to be as good as they can be.
"We're a women's programme. It's about winning matches and it's also about driving the women's game. We've a plan in place and we're going nicely with it. The win today just proved that."
After a strange week, the show moves on to Cardiff in two weeks and it does so with a Grand Slam now a real possibility.
Ireland Women - M Coyne; K Flood, J Murphy, C McLaughlin, E Considine; N Stapleton, M Healy (L Muldoon 51); L Peat, L Lyons, A Egan; S Spence, M-L Reilly; C Griffin (C Cooney 67), C Molloy, P Fitzpatrick.
France Women - J Tremouliere; C Grassineau, C Ladagnous, E Poublan, S Izar; C Cabalou (M Menager 39-h/t, 51), J Le Pasq; L Arricastre (A Deshayes 67), G Mignot (capt) (C Thomas, 71), J Duval (P Carricaburu 67); L Corson, A Forlani (C Ferer 67); M Mayans, R Menager (L Grand 71), S N'Diaye.
REF - S Cox (RFU)