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Bourke Brace Not Enough As Ireland Women Fall To France

Bourke Brace Not Enough As Ireland Women Fall To France

The Ireland Women fell just short of a first ever victory on French soil as the home side held on to win 19-15, thus securing their first Six Nations title and Grand Slam since 2005.

In a game that ebbed and flowed throughout in front of a partisan Pau crowd, unbeaten France got the result they required to dethrone Ireland despite a hugely combative performance from the girls in green.

France made an explosive start with winger Marion Lievre touching down within six minutes, and they repeated the trick early in the second half thanks as prop Elodie Portaries crashed over.

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Centre Shannon Izar notched a third try for her side, leaving Ireland 19-3 behind, but the defending champions showed a huge amount of fight with two maul tries from hooker Gillian Bourke.

Niamh Briggs converted the second one in the 71st minute, giving the visitors a chance of completing what would have been an excellent comeback at the end of a very entertaining tussle.

But despite the best efforts of Nora Stapleton and replacements Grace Davitt and Hannah Casey late on, Ireland were unable to get back into scoring range and the free-scoring French sealed their clean sweep of victories.

Ireland, who won the toss and elected to receive, came under immediate pressure after a kick from out-half Stapleton went out on the full.

The bulky French forwards built serious momentum through a lineout maul on the right and somehow Ireland held out, with key defensive contributions from Claire Molloy and Lynne Cantwell.

The hosts pressed further with Marjorie Mayans held up over the line, and Koumiba Djossouvi was then called back for a forward pass from her influential back row colleague Safi N'Diaye.

The pressure eventually told when the Irish defence was sucked in on the right and Jennifer Troncy and Christelle Le Duff released Lievre for a run-in from the corner.

Agricole missed the conversion and Briggs and Alison Miller led the Irish response, running hard out wide. Briggs scuffed a long range penalty attempt after Marine De Nadaï was caught offside.

It was nip and tuck again as Molloy came up with a brilliant ruck poach and Agricole miscued a penalty effort after Cantwell was ruled offside at a kick chase.

The dangerous Miller made headway on the left again, shrugging off try scorer Lievre, and French number 8 N'Diaye countered with a typically powerful carry.

The high tempo of the first quarter was replaced by a real arm wrestle up front, with both scrums seeking supremacy and Ireland patient in possession albeit without the required territory.

Good competing in the air from Siobhan Fleming prevented France from building a lineout platform, and fellow back rower Molloy did well to tackle Lievre into touch on the half hour mark.

A number of refereeing decisions went France's way – some of them questionable calls – but Ireland's defence held firm as they went in at the break 5-0 behind.

Crucially, N'Diaye provided the momentum for the hosts on the resumption with a bulldozing run and deft offload. Mayans ran hard in the Irish 22 and prop Portaries duly plunged over for her try from a close range drive.

Agricole managed to add the extras to open up a 12-0 lead. Ireland hit back with a high quality run from Miller which took them back into the French 22, the net result being their opening score – a successful penalty goal from Briggs.

But Ireland failed to clear their lines soon after and the French capitalised, trucking it up through the forwards before Agricole's inviting offload sent centre Izar darting through a gap and in under the posts.

The conversion followed from Agricole for a 19-3 scoreline. There was no sense of Ireland throwing in the towel though and they showed more directness as they found their rhythm in attack.

They sent two kickable penalties to touch and were rewarded when Bourke made the try-line at the end of a very well orchestrated maul, wide out on the left. It was the first try France had conceded in the entire 2014 tournament.

Briggs' conversion attempt stayed outside the right hand post but there were further encouraging signs for Philip Doyle and his coaching staff on the touchline.

Stapleton sent the French back into their 22 with a clever kick towards the left corner and Ireland got their jumpers in the air to disrupt the home lineout.

Then, a terrific broken-field run from Miller in the 68th minute should have led to a try. She reached the 22 and combined with Bourke, but Heather O'Brien failed to find Ashleigh Baxter out on the right wing and the chance was lost.

Ireland made up for that with an excellent maul try three minutes later, the pack driving brilliantly in unison and diagonally towards the posts for Bourke to touch down. The simple conversion was added by Briggs.

That set up a grandstand finish and Ireland kept the foot on the gas as Davitt hared onto a clearance kick and Stapleton pulled out another rewarding touchfinder.

However, France managed to retain possession this time and they went close to adding a fourth try – Ireland needed a tremendous tackle by Sophie Spence and good covering by Casey to keep them at bay.

Doyle's charges did end the game in possession, but France's blue-shirted defence closed down the space near halfway and made certain of their fifth successive win of the campaign.

TIME LINE: 6 minutes – France try: Marion Lievre – 5-0; 10 mins – Ireland penalty: missed by Niamh Briggs – 5-0; 15 mins – France penalty: missed by Sandrine Agricole – 5-0; Half-time – France 5 Ireland 0; 44 mins – France try: Elodie Portaries – 10-0; conversion: Sandrine Agricole – 12-0; 49 mins – Ireland penalty: Niamh Briggs – 12-3; 52 mins – France try: Shannon Izar – 17-3; conversion: Sandrine Agricole – 19-3; 59 mins – Ireland try: Gillian Bourke – 19-8; conversion: missed by Niamh Briggs – 19-8; 71 mins – Ireland try: Gillian Bourke – 19-13; conversion: Niamh Briggs – 19-15; Full-time – France 19 Ireland 15

Referee: Leah Berard (USA)