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As debate over long-term future continues, Ireland must make short-term progress

Ciara Griffin and co. were poor in a number of areas during last weekend’s hammering by France.

WHILE EVERYONE ELSE has been busy having bigger-picture conversations about the long-term future of Irish women’s rugby this week, the Ireland team themselves will have been focusing on short-term matters on the pitch.

The discussions about the state of the game are important. It was alarming to hear Ireland head coach Adam Griggs say yesterday that he didn’t know exactly who in the IRFU is in charge of the domestic women’s game, but his team have plenty on their plate right now.

eimear-considine-dejected-after-the-game Ireland suffered a heavy defeat last weekend. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

A hammering at the hands of France last weekend did indicate a big gap in quality but Ireland will also have identified a number of areas in which they made life easier for the visitors to Dublin. There will be no delusion that they could have won the game but it could have been more competitive with greater Irish accuracy.

Whatever about the debate regarding professionalism, Ireland will likely have viewed their display as unacceptable.

With a Women’s Six Nations third-place play-off to come this Saturday against Italy at Energia Park, captain Ciara Griffin and co. have several key areas in which they must improve.

A third-place finish would be a satisfactory outcome for Ireland in this condensed championship and a strong performance against the Italians would mean ending this international window in a positive fashion. 

Two of Ireland’s try concessions last weekend came directly from losing the ball in contact – gimmes for a team with France’s counter-attacking ability – so ball security is one key focus.

In the instance below, fullback Eimear Considine attempts an offload in an unfavourable situation, allowing France wing Cyrielle Banet to scoop it back to her scrum-half, Laure Sansus.


Instantly recognising that Ireland have no backfield cover in this turnover scenario, Sansus clever kicks in behind for outstanding fullback Emilie Boulard to chase, nudge the ball ahead skillfully, and then ground it for their second try.

Below, we see left wing Beibhinn Parsons being stripped of possession for another French score.


Again, Banet is the one to earn the turnover for France. Parsons’ knees do hit the ground just before Banet reefs the ball – meaning a tackle has been completed – but it is marginal and referee Sara Cox is content to play on. Banet races away for a remarkably soft score.

Ireland conceded 15 turnovers in this game, a huge number against a team as clinical in transition as France.

Both of these examples also hint at another weakness in Ireland’s game last weekend – their kicking game, or lack of it.

In the first instance, Ireland had lost the gainline on several consecutive phases against the strong French defence before the turnover.


While Ireland appeared to be keen to set a midfield ruck – splitting the defence and forcing them to ease off on their linespeed – losing the gainline consecutively makes everything progressively more difficult on subsequent phases.

This is often a cue for teams to use their kicking game to pressure the opposition and at least get the ball back in a more favourable situation, but Ireland hesitated in this instance in a game where their use of the boot was not really a factor. 

Ireland kicked just 11 times in play compared to France’s 21. It’s obviously not about Ireland just kicking the ball away, but against teams with defences as strong as France’s, a clear kicking strategy has to be part of the plan.

There were a handful of good decisions to kick from Ireland, as below from Considine.


The Ireland fullback has gathered a kick from France in her own half and identifies space in the backfield, finding grass with an excellent kick of her own.

France have to turn and recover, with Boulard passing infield to wing Caroline Boujard, whose scrappy kick should result either in an attacking chance for Ireland or an Ireland lineout in a good position only for wing Lauren Delany to drop the ball into touch.


It’s a frustrating outcome for Ireland after an exchange of kicks they appeared to have won.

Ireland also will have spent time reviewing their defensive efforts from scrum in particular.

France scored their first try on first phase from a right-hand-side scrum on Ireland’s 10-metre line, while they made big gains from a similar position in the second half. 

Ireland’s set-piece deficiencies were also damaging last weekend, with four lineout losses on their own throw restricting chances to launch more of their attacking plans.

It was generally a messy day at lineout time in part due to a firm wind, with France also losing three, but Ireland will have spent time attempting to iron out their issues before the Italy clash.

The scrum, meanwhile, saw Ireland suffer notably at times as they gave away three penalties and were marched backwards on a couple of occasions.


Ireland did also have some intermittent successes at the scrum but France’s power, cohesion, and technical prowess proved too much overall.

The set-piece issues meant Ireland didn’t have too much high-quality ball to attack with from those platforms, but they struggled to make consistent dents in the French defence even when they did.

It was interesting to see Dorothy Wall used in a passing role off two first-half lineouts.

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Wall made a big impact carrying off lineouts against Wales the weekend before but her role was changed in these two instances. Rather than carrying outside Griffin, Wall became the first receiver and passed out the back of Griffin to right wing Delany. 

We can see that Ireland fail to get over the gainline [the halfway line] in the example above, making everything that follows more difficult.

Ireland eventually use a disguised inside pass from scrum-half Kathryn Dane to lock Nicola Fryday wide on the left, but we can see below that she is isolated and France win a turnover penalty – one of two off the same Irish play close to the ruck.


The thinking behind these plays is clear.

Firstly, France would have expected Wall to be the direct carrier from lineouts and Ireland attempted to throw a different picture at them. But using your most effective ball-carriers in advantageous situations to get over the gainline early on in possession is also important.

Secondly, Ireland were looking to pick out space close to the ruck, rather than play into France’s linespeed. Unfortunately for them, France had greater urgency to the breakdown and earn the turnover.

Ireland had persistent issues around the breakdown against the French, clearly lacking urgency against the visitors’ aggression, and that contributed to a horrific performance in terms of the penalty count.

Griggs’ side conceded 20 penalties in total, which is simply far too high.

Of course, the pressure applied by France forced Ireland into tough positions where they infringed, but so many of those penalty concessions were simply poor Irish play.


Captain Griffin is attempting to be aggressive in the instance above but the penalty simply allows France to kick down into the left corner, from where their maul notches a penalty try as Aoife McDermott is sin-binned for collapsing it.

It’s a clear example of the effect that avoidable slips in discipline can have. 

Ireland learned a series of harsh lessons in this defeat to France but they will feel that lots of the shortcomings can be improved upon this weekend versus Italy.

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Murray Kinsella

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