IRELAND WOMEN HAVE finished fourth in the Women’s Rugby World Cup after losing their third place play-off to France at Stade Jean-Bouin, Paris on a 25-18 scoreline.
The French utterly dominated Ireland at the scrum, repeatedly forcing scrappy possession on Fiona Coghlan’s team, while also securing several crucial penalties. In all the tight exchanges, it was the host nation who thrived.
Ireland offered far more in attack than was on show in the semi-final defeat to England, scoring two tries through Grace Davitt and Niamh Briggs, but failed to muster the energy to beat the physically superior and wonderfully-supported French.
Philip Doyle’s side enjoyed a superb start, taking France through an early passage of multi-phase attack that eventually resulted in Ireland winning a scrum five metres from Les Bleues‘ tryline.
No. 8 Paula Fitzpatrick carried from the tail of the set-piece, setting up the platform that eventually resulted in fullback Niamh Briggs stretching over for the first try. The IRB World Player of the Year nominee converted smartly from the right for a 7-0 lead after just 7 minutes.
France bounced back aggressively, with Briggs’ tackle in the right-hand corner doing enough to halt out-half Sandrine Agricole. However, a penalty allowed the French to kick to the corner, from where their formidably powerful pack barged over through captain Gaëlle Mignot, with Agricole converting.
Five minutes later, Briggs had a chance to redeem that miss when France flanker Laëtitia Grand came offside, and the UL Bohs star made no mistake for a 10-7 Irish advantage.
The French again conjured a response, turning on the power from a five-metre scrum, taking Ireland through 10 phases and sending fullback Jessy Tremouliere over the whitewash wide on the left for an unconverted 31st-minute try.
Ireland went into half-time in the lead, however, with Ulster’s Grace Davitt conjuring a magnificent individual score, chipping over the French defence, regathering and beating the tackle of Tremouliere. Briggs’ conversion struck the right post, but Ireland left the field 15-12 ahead.
France came back from the interval intent on focusing on their own strengths, and began to set up mini-mauls in open play. One such effort dragged in defenders in the Ireland 22 and opened space for left wing Elodie Guiglion to dash in for a third try.
Replacement out-half Le Duff was wide with the conversion, but France had a 17-15 lead. Three minutes later, the French almost drove the Irish scrum back over their tryline, but Fitzpatrick did well to rescue and Briggs cleared to touch.
Ireland continued to take punishment at the scrum, but Fitzpatrick did superbly to control the ball and retain possession even when back-peddling. That grit allowed Ireland to earn a 61st-minute penalty 35 metres out, and Briggs drilled her kick over.
The major sticking point for Doyle’s side continued to be the scrum and France earned another penalty from the set-piece after 66 minutes, allowing fullback Tremouliere to slot three points and put France back in front at 20-18.
France were harshly penalised for not releasing in the tackle heading into the closing 10 minutes, but Briggs’ penalty effort from wide on the left swept across the face of the posts and wide to leave les Bleues in control of the scoreboard.
Ireland had a final chance to steal a win, mauling their way into the French half and then battering their way forward with a series of pick and drives. However, the ball was spun right to Tania Rosser, now at out-half, and the veteran spilled it forward.
France powered their way back downfield and mustered the fourth try that their physical dominance deserved. It was wing Guiglion who once again finished off the French score in the left corner and sent Ireland home with a second World Cup defeat.
Tries: N Briggs, G Davitt
Conversions: N Briggs
Penalties: N Briggs 
Tries: G Mignot, J Tremouliere, E Guiglion 
Conversions: S Agricole
Penalties: J Tremouliere
IRELAND: Niamh Briggs; Ashleigh Baxter, Grace Davitt, Jenny Murphy, Alison Miller; Nora Stapleton (Larissa Muldoon ’68), Tania Rosser; Fiona Coghlan (capt.), Gillian Bourke; Sophie Spence, Marie Louise Reilly; Siobhan Fleming (Heather O’Brien ’64), Claire Molloy, Paula Fitzpatrick.
Replacements not used: Sharon Lynch, Kerrie Ann Craddock, Laura Guest, Jackie Shiels, Hannah Casey.
FRANCE: Jessy Tremouliere; Shannon Izar (Caroline Ladagnous ’66), Elodie Publan, Marjorie Mayans, Elodie Guiglion; Sandrine Agricole (Christelle Le Duff ’29), Jennifer Troncy (Yanna Rivoalen ’76); Lise Arricastre, Gaëlle Mignot (capt.) (Laëtitia Salles ’68), Christelle Chobet (Elodie Portaries); Sandra Rabier, Assa Koita; Koumbia Djossouvi (Coumba Diallo ’51), Laëtitia Grand (Manon Andre ’76), Safi N’Diaye.
Referee: Sherry Trumbull (Canada).