France crush hosts' World Cup ambition
Ireland 5 France 21
From day one against Australia, Ireland's World Cup dream has threatened to descend into a nightmare but it eventually became a reality last night as France dumped the hosts out of the tournament in utterly convincing fashion.
Ireland's start was always going to be crucial but it was as disjointed as it has been in all three of their games, only this time it was against a vastly superior French side who didn't offer up any second chances.
It leaves Ireland facing a rematch against their pool rivals Australia in a runners-up play-off at the Kingspan Stadium next Tuesday - a game that frankly neither team wants to be involved in.
In terms of personnel, this was largely the same French team who were beaten in Dublin last February but they have transformed themselves in the space of six months while Ireland have regressed in the same period.
Questions must now be asked about where the apparent strength in depth that Ireland have supposedly been building for the last three years is.
France offered up some thrilling free-flowing rugby which was a world away from that Six Nations defeat and ultimately a world away from anything Ireland were capable of.
Ireland paid the price for their passiveness in defence as they repeatedly fell off tackles. In attack they were rudderless for large parts and barely threatened to puncture a hole through a defence that happily soaked up everything they threw at them.
The home side were much improved in the second half but at that stage France knew that they had the game wrapped up.
Replacement hooker Cliodhna Moloney got over for a try in the dying stages that Ireland's tireless efforts deserved but it was nothing more than a consolation.
In all three games, Ireland's Achilles heel has been their handling errors and, once again, their execution of the basic skills was incredibly sloppy.
Jenny Murphy typically led from the front but her quality was not replicated by those around her. The midfielder had to pull off a brilliant last-ditch try saving tackle late in the first half but even by that stage the contest was as good as over.
France were bigger, stronger and smarter than Ireland all over the pitch. Knowing that Ireland's maul is one of their only weapons, France were happy not to engage in the maul for the majority of the lineouts. It was a simple ploy done well but it was hugely effective as Ireland's lack of a Plan B was laid bare.
The powerful French duo Lenaig Corson and Safi N'Diaye cut through the home side's defence at will. At times, France looked as if they were playing Sevens rugby as their offloading game cut Ireland to shreds.
Caroline Ladadnous crossed twice for a 21-0 half-time lead and as much as Ireland huffed and puffed, they were devoid of any inspiration in their attempt to break down a rock-solid blue wall.
The warning signs were glaring from as early as two minutes in. Nicole Cronin, who enjoyed another fine display, did brilliantly to stop Annaelle Deshaye scoring.
Ireland were helpless to stop Romane Menager getting over for the first try five minutes later. N'Diaye barrelled through a couple of soft tackles before Menager forced her way over.
Montserrat added the extras for a 7-0 lead but that was soon doubled. Again N'Diaye caused havoc in the Irish defence and despite Murphy putting in yet another big hit, the pressure eventually told and Ladagnous dotted down.
Shannon Izar bisected the posts with the conversion from wide on the touchline as the hosts were left scrambling after just 13 minutes.
Ireland did enjoy a brief spell of possession but France were happy to soak up the pressure. After building through almost 20 phases a sloppy handling error killed the momentum which in many ways typified the Irish struggles throughout the tournament.
That error was compounded on the half-hour mark when a brilliant French move that started inside their own 22 finished was finished off by Ladagnous who scored her second try. Amadedee's extras left Ireland with a mountain to climb.
Ireland were offered a brief lifeline three minutes after when Corson was sinbinned for trying to kill the ball close to her line.
From the resulting scrum, Murphy carried hard but when the ball was recycled yet another sloppy knock-on cost them.
Even with a numerical disadvantage, France were far too comfortable in defence and it was the visitors who looked more threatening with ball in hand.
Ironically enough, when Corson returned to the pitch, Ireland enjoyed their best spell of the game. They battered away at the French wall and on the hour mark thought they had gotten over for a try, only for the TMO to rule that they had been held up.
From the scrum, Cronin linked well with Ali Miller who had darted off her wing but she was held short. It was a remarkable defensive effort as France eventually forced the turnover.
It was energy-sapping stuff but Ireland refused to give in. France on the other hand already had one eye on their semi-final meeting with England as they rung the changes. An injury eventually forced Murphy off but she put in another huge shift.
Ireland continued to play the game in France's half but it was if their opponents were toying with them. Even the weather man was rubbing it in as the forecasted rain that would have helped Ireland arrived in the dying stages.
Ireland eventually broke France's resilience in the last play of the game when Moloney powered over from close range.
And so, a tournament that promised so much for Ireland ended without them ever really firing a shot. A long week in Belfast lies ahead.
Ireland - H Tyrrell; E Considine, J Murphy (L Galvin 64), S Naoupu, A Miller; N Stapleton (K Fitzhenry 61), N Cronin (L Muldoon 75); L Peat, L Lyons (C Moloney h-t), A Egan (R O'Reilly 71); S Spence (H O'Brien, 57), M-L Reilly; C Griffin, C Molloy (capt), P Fitzpatrick.
France - M Amedee; C Pelle, C Ladagnous, E Poublan, S Izar (C Grassineau 52); C Drouin (C Neisen 69), Y Rivoalen (J Le Pesq 46); A Deshaye (L Arricastre 46), G Mignot (capt) (C Thomas 64), J Duval (P Carricaburu 49); L Corson, A Forlani; M Mayans (C Ferer, 73), R Menager (J Annery 46), S N'Diaye.
Ref - G Cooper (Australia)