Ireland Women added the Six Nations Championship to their Triple Crown with a hard fought 15 – 10 victory over France Women on a damp and foggy Friday night at Ashbourne RFC.
With Italy losing to England on Saturday Philip Doyle’s Girls in Green can not be caught at the top of the table and they now have the chance to finish off a remarkable season with a Grand Slam attempt against Italy on Sunday 17th March just outside Milan.
Ireland scored a try in each half with, surely the player of the tournament, Niamh Briggs going over in the first and prop Ailis Egan burrowing over in the second. Briggs added a second half conversion and a late penalty to secure the Irish win.
Success brings it’s own expectations and, as the record 3,700 crowd rolled in with the mists, you could almost feel the pressure pushing down on the shoulders of the Irish girls and it was no surprise that the visitors started the brighter of the two sides.
France took an early lead through the boot of Agricole after a period of pressure in the Irish half but Ireland stuck determinedly to their game plan of moving the ball wide to tire the big French pack with the girls show excellent skills under pressure.
Alison Millar enjoyed a roving role in the back line punching holes in the French defence on the left and the right before some quick hands and a nice lay off, by the photogenic Joy Neville, sent Briggs into space for the classy full back to race for the line. Briggs missed the conversion from out wide but Ireland led 5 – 3.
However, France, who had a chance to leapfrog Ireland at the top of the table, reverted back to their forwards and kept the game tight. After a series of rumbles inside the Ireland 22 French hooker Mignot found the line and with Agricole converting the visitors were back in front with the score reading Ireland 5 France 10.
Ireland refused to panic and stuck to their plan bringing wingers Ashleigh Baxter and Miller into play as often as possible after Jenny Murphy and the back row had punched holes in the middle of the park . Their best chance came when Baxter looked to have sent Lynn Cantwell clear only to be called back for a forward pass but the movement from the Irish side was taking it’s toll on the French pack who looked to be visibly tiring.
The visitors managed to hold on to their lead at the break and with the game on a knife edge the next score was going to be crucial.
Ireland came out determined to do a job and they immediately put France under pressure in their own 22. A series of rucks close to the French line eventually led to Egan burrowing over and with Briggs converting the Girls in Green were back in front at 12 – 10.
As Ireland continued to send in wave after wave of attack it looked as though the dam would burst but to their credit the French side refused to lie down and as the game approached the final quarter the visitors began to work their way back into contention only to snatch at a drop goal attempt.
It was close enough to spur the Irish girls into a late rally. There was no way they were going to let this one slip away, and they eased the nerves of the big crowd by spending the last ten minutes camped in the French half. Briggs hit the upright with one penalty attempt before slotting over another shortly after and it was France who looked out on their feet when the final whistle came.
Final Score: Ireland 15 France 10.
IRELAND: Niamh Briggs, Ashleigh Baxter, Lynne Cantwell, Jenny Murphy, Alison Miller, Nora Stapleton, Larissa Muldoon, Fiona Coghlan, Gillian Bourke, Ailis Egan, Sophie Spence, Marie Louise Reilly, Siobhan Fleming, Claire Molloy, Joy Neville. Replacements: Stacey-Lea Kennedy, Fiona Hayes, Lauren Day, Leigh Dargan, Laura Guest, Amy Davis, Grace Davitt, Niamh Kavanagh.