Ireland girls dealt a blow in bid to retain Six Nations trophy
France 18-6 Ireland
After a facile win over Wales last weekend, Saturday's trip to France was always going to be an entirely different affair and so it proved as Ireland's inexperienced women were given a lesson about how tough this tournament really is.
In front of 11,170 raucous supporters at Perpignan's Stade Aime Giral, Ireland came up short against the only team to beat them in last year's Six Nations.
Tom Tierney's side still managed to win the title on points difference from France and although he will take some sort of solace from that, a trip to Twickenham to take on the world champions in two weeks is an equally daunting task.
Ireland were 15-6 down at the break and they never really threatened a comeback, which will frustrate Tierney.
Against a poor Welsh outfit last time out, Ireland weren't punished for their errors but against a far superior French side, they were playing catch up from the 21st minute when the home side scored the first of their two tries.
Audrey Abadie had kicked France into an early lead before Niamh Briggs responded with a penalty of her own and the Ireland captain might have scored a try as well but for a knock on from Sene Naoupu's pass.
France had gone close from a powerful rolling maul before their captain Gaelle Mignot forced her way over the whitewash.
Ireland fell further behind after 24 minutes when Briggs was turned over in the tackle by Elodie Poublan just inside the French half. She released Caroline Boujard, whose acceleration was too fast for the Irish defence and she scored in the corner. Audrey Abadie added the touchline conversion.
Ireland were struggling to get quick ruck ball and were being dominated by France's power at the breakdown but Briggs did cut the deficit with a penalty after Aine Donnelly had made good ground through the middle.
Briggs' second penalty proved to be the final time that Ireland scored points as they went 47 minutes without registering further on the scoreboard.
Marie Louise Reilly claimed a crucial lineout steal as France tried to repeat Mignot's maul score and while Fitzpatrick and Ruth O'Reilly also won back possession in contact, poor ball protection from Ireland allowed France to force quick turnovers in response.
Ireland's issues at the breakdown were evident again after the restart, a neat break by Briggs, which saw her link up with Mairead Coyne, being completely ruined by a sloppy turnover at the ruck.
Ireland's indiscipline cost them another three points late on when Briggs was penalised for a high tackle and Laura Delas fired over the resulting penalty to seal the win for the French.
With an unbeaten England side waiting on the horizon, based on Saturday's evidence, major improvements must be made if they are to have any hope of retaining their Six Nations title.
France: J Billes (C Bertrand 34); C Boujard, L Godiveau, E Poublan, L Delas; A Abadie (C Imart 64), Y Rivoalen (L Sansis 58); L Arricastre (A Lahbib 52), G Mignot (capt) (A Sochat 74), J Duval (P Carricaburu 58); C Ferer, A Forlani (R Menager 54); L Grand, P Rayssac (J Annery 61), S N'Diaye.
Ireland: N Briggs; E O'Byrne-White, A Donnelly (J Shiels 66), S Naoupu, M Coyne; N Caughey (N Stapleton 66), L Muldoon (M Healy 66); R O'Reilly (L Peat 48), C Moloney (Z Grattage 70), A Egan (F Reidy 74); S Spence, M L Reilly; P Fitzpatrick, C Molloy (C Griffin 36-h/t), H O'Brien (C Griffin 58).
Referee: J Beard (New Zealand)