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Dublin: 7°C Thursday 13 May 2021
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What can Ireland expect from France in their Six Nations showdown in Dublin?

The winner of tomorrow’s clash in Dublin will advance into the final against England.

THERE HAS BEEN plenty of optimism in Ireland camp heading into this weekend after a 45-0 hammering of Wales in Cardiff last time out, but Ciara Griffin and co. face a major step up in quality tomorrow against France in Energia Park [KO 2.15pm, RTÉ 2].

safi-ndiaye-is-tackled-by-cara-hope Safi N'Diaye offers ball-carrying power and offloading skill from the second row. Source: Dave Winter/INPHO

The semi-professional French enjoyed a 53-0 victory over Wales on the opening weekend of this condensed Women’s Six Nations and went about their business in a very similar fashion to Ireland, combining some thrilling attacking play with muscular work up front.

Wing Caroline Boujard – who starts opposite Beibhinn Parsons tomorrow – scored a hat-trick inside the opening 15 minutes against the Welsh, underlining how big a threat she will be in Dublin.

Boujard showed that she is a danger even close to the ruck for her first as she picked and snuck over from close-range.

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France number eight Émeline Gros shows her smarts here by reaching forward from the breakdown and grabbing Wales centre Hannah Jones.

Gros

Gros’ intervention means Jones can’t cover across as Boujard takes advantage of the Welsh going to sleep on the other side of the breakdown.

The French are clever with their attacks around the rucks and Ireland will need to be defensively alert, even with influential scrum-half Pauline Bourdon dropping to the bench to make way for Laure Sansus.

France boss Annick Hayraud has made eight changes in total, opting to bring in Caroline Drouin at out-half, while there’s a new centre pairing of Carla Neisen and Jade Ulutule.

Boujard’s second was a straightforward finish after a sloppy Wales turnover concession, but her hat-trick try came on the end of a sweeping France counter-attack, another part of their game that was prominent in that game.

It starts with a kick from the Welsh out of their own half.

Wales

Wales are targeting the space in the middle of the backfield, with the French set up in a 13+2 defensive system – 13 in the main frontline of the defence and two covering the backfield.

Even before the kick, we can see some of the reasons France will be successful with their counter-attack.

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Scrum-half Bourdon has already dropped off the frontline in the middle of the pitch, while we can see wing Marine Ménager and centre Maëlle Filopon doing the same wide on France’s left.

Meanwhile, just a single Welsh player, wing Lisa Neumann, is chasing to the right of the kick – a very open invitation for France to come back down that side of the pitch.

Fullback Emilie Boulard, making her debut in this game, willingly counters back after gathering the ball on the bounce.

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Boulard dummies, carries, then offloads to Filopon, who finds Ménager in turn – their early work-rate off the ball proving crucial in allowing them to take advantage of Wales’ poor organisation.

Scrum-half Bourdon steams up on Ménager’s shoulder but she returns the ball to Filopon instead…

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Fullback Boulard then strides up on the inside, having immediately bounced back to her feet following her initial offload.

Filopon passes slightly early here and Boulard is hauled down short of the tryline.

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Wales are reeling, however, and after a lovely offload from centre Gabrielle Vernier and a couple of carries from the French forwards, Ménager pops up infield to flick the ball away for Boujard to score her third try.

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France also scored a brilliant try on kick return later in this game, with Boulard, Filopon and replacement out-half Camille Imart combining wonderfully down the left-hand side.

Ireland will need to be wary of the counter-attack threat posed by fresh face Boulard in the number 15 shirt tomorrow, while right wing Boujard and left wing Cyrielle Banet – who replaces the injured Ménager – will be dangerous out wide.

Ireland must kick accurately with a very organised chase line and limit turnover opportunities for the French, who are lethal in transition from defence to attack.

emilie-boulard-makes-a-break Wing Emilie Boulard made an impressive debut against Wales. Source: Dave Winter/INPHO

As pertinently, it is going to be a demanding afternoon for the Irish pack, who were totally dominant against Wales last weekend – excelling at scrum time for most of the game, making gains in the maul, and pilfering lineout possession, while hooker Cliodhna Moloney fired accurate darts on the Irish throw.

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The French have made three changes up front for this game and look even stronger for them, with 93kg powerhouse lock Safi N’Diaye adding huge ball-carrying power and offloading skills after replacing the impressive Coumba Diallo.

Marjorie Mayans comes in at blindside flanker and will deliver a relentless work-rate as always, while 21-year-old tighthead Rose Bernadou will aim to help the French scrum pick up where it left off.

Scrum

This scrum turnover on the Welsh feed led directly to number eight Gros darting away to score one of France’s eight tries, while she soon added a second from close-range as the French pack marched forward.

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Ireland did have real scrum success against the Welsh too, with dominant platforms at this set-piece proving the source for Parsons and Sene Naoupu’s first-half tries, while they also drove through the Welsh on their own feed for a penalty.

It all means we’re heading for a fascinating scrum battle tomorrow in Dublin, when the Irish front row of Lindsay Peat, Moloney, and Linda Djougan will be looking to excel for the second weekend in a row. Referee Sara Cox will be a key decision-maker in this area of the game.

The French also had major success with their maul against Wales, their size, power, and organisation allowing them to drive over for two maul tries.

Maul

France use a clever shift drive to the right of lineout jumper Diallo here, with their clean, cohesive maul proving too much for the Welsh. Hooker Agathe Sochat dots down at the tail.

Again, Ireland will likely have spent time this week organising their strategy for lineout defence, while they will be keen not to give up penalties that allow the visitors to kick into the corners.

Ireland’s lineout defence was spectacularly good against Wales, with Aoife McDermott earning two steals and Nicola Fryday winning three on the Welsh throw in a superb display from the Irish second row. 

France had a 100% return on their 16 throws against the Welsh, meaning this will be another crucial battle even before a maul is formed.

The challenges are everywhere for Ireland, but Adam Griggs’ side will still feel they have a strong chance of their first Six Nations win against the French since 2017.

The winner of tomorrow’s clash in Dublin will advance into the final against England.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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