Twelve months on from Ireland’s memorable Grand Slam success, it is France who are 80 minutes from completing a clean sweep following their fourth win of the 2014 Women’s Six Nations – an 11-try 69-0 thrashing of Scotland.
France, who host the Women’s Rugby World Cup this summer, extended their winning streak in Howthornden to stay two points clear at the top of the table.
Heading into the final round, the French are in pole position and also have a superior scoring difference of +137. They have yet to concede a try in this year’s tournament.
Defending champions Ireland are in second place, level on six points with England, with the Irish scoring difference standing at +99 compared to England’s +90.
That means both Ireland and England still have a mathematical chance of overhauling the table toppers, with the girls in green now targeting a big victory over France in Pau on Friday night.
Philip Doyle’s side need to win by upwards of 19 points to claim top spot, while also hoping that England do not rack up a big score away to Italy on Sunday.
Ireland ran out 39-0 winners over the Italians in last Saturday’s historic first Women’s international match at the Aviva Stadium.
Classy scores from Claire Molloy and Ireland’s most-capped player, Lynne Cantwell, gave the hosts a 20-0 interval lead, and Alison Miller, Heather O’Brien and replacement Jenny Murphy added further tries in the second half.
Full-back Niamh Briggs, who kicked 12 points, was thrilled to play at the home of Irish rugby, saying afterwards: “The crowd was absolutely fantastic. We were blown away by the support out there and running out on to the pitch, and the atmosphere, is something I’ll never forget.
“We knew it was going to be a special occasion for Brian (O’Driscoll), but we’d spoken about it and we knew we just had to focus on ourselves despite everything that was going on.”
Italy were tough nuts to crack and Briggs and her team-mates had to be patient in wearing down the visitors’ defence – Molloy and Cantwell touched down in the final nine minutes of the first half.
The Waterford native added: “The occasion didn’t really get to us and I think playing at Twickenham recently helped in that.
“Italy’s back-three were amazing but, defensively, we did well and our pack were excellent fronting up. I think two of our tries were pushover tries.”
For captain Fiona Coghlan it was a very proud moment as she led out the squad for a game watched by thousands in the stadium and many more around the world – it was broadcast live on the RTÉ News Now channel and there was a stream on the RTÉ website.
In a post-match interview, she said: “(It’s) definitely a scoreline we’d be very happy with. I think at times it was a bit stop-start but once we tried to force it we got into our stride.
“Some of the tries were absolutely outstanding and I think we dominated in most areas of play.
“We didn’t mention (points) but it was about turning the screw and hammering home how we were so dominant in the half.
“We probably have to look at our breakdown going into the next game but once we got through the phases we were quite threatening.”
Friday’s round 5 showdown between Ireland and France takes place at Stade du Hameau in Pau (kick-off 5.45pm Irish time/6.45pm local time).