Ireland will still play two Belfast games after World Cup dream shattered by France
Ireland 5 France 21
From day one against Australia, Ireland's World Cup dream has threatened to descend into a nightmare but that eventually became a reality on Thursday night as France dumped the hosts out of the tournament in utterly convincing fashion.
It leaves Ireland facing a rematch against their pool rivals Australia in a runners-up play-off at the Kingspan Stadium next Tuesday (kick-off 2pm) - a game that frankly neither team wants to be involved in. The winners will face either Canada or Wales at Ulster's ground at 2pm on Saturday August 26 with the big prize a fifth placed finish. Should Ireland lose to Australia, they will conclude their home World Cup playing for seventh at Queen's University.
Ireland's start was always going to be crucial but it was as disjointed as it has been in all of their games, only this time it was against a vastly superior French side who didn't offer up any second chances.
In terms of personnel, this was largely the same French team who were beaten in Dublin last February but they have transformed themselves in the space of six months while Ireland have regressed in the same period.
Questions must now be asked about where the apparent strength in depth that Ireland have supposedly been building for the last three years is.
Ireland paid the price for their passiveness in defence as they repeatedly fell off tackles. In attack they were rudderless for large parts and barely threatened to puncture a hole through a defence that happily soaked up everything thrown at them.
Replacement hooker Cliodha Moloney got over for a try in the dying stages that Ireland's tireless efforts deserved but it was nothing more than a consolation.
In all three games, Ireland's Achilles heel has been their handling errors and, once again, their execution of the basic skills was incredibly sloppy.
Jenny Murphy typically led from the front but her quality was not replicated by those around her.
The powerful French duo of Lenaig Corson and Safi N'Diaye cut through the home side's defence at will. At times, France looked as if they were playing Sevens rugby as their offloading game cut Ireland to shreds.
Caroline Ladadnous crossed twice for a 21-0 half time lead and as much as Ireland huffed and puffed, they were devoid of any inspiration.
The warning signs were glaring from as early as two minutes in, Nicole Cronin doing brilliantly to stop Annaelle Deshaye scoring.
Ireland were helpless to stop Romane Menager getting over for the first try five minutes later. N'Diaye barrelled through a couple of soft tackles before Menager forced her way over.
Montserrat Amedee added the extras for a 7-0 lead but that was soon doubled. Again N'Diaye caused havoc in the Irish defence and despite Murphy putting in yet another big hit, the pressure eventually told and Ladagnous dotted down.
Shannon Izar bisected the posts with the conversion from wide on the touchline as the hosts were left scrambling after just 13 minutes.
On the half hour mark a brilliant French move that started inside their own 22 was finished off by Ladagnous who scored her second try. Amedee's extras left Ireland with a mountain to climb although they were offered a lifeline three minutes after when Corson was sin binned for trying to kill the ball close to her line.
From the resulting scrum, Murphy carried hard but when the ball was recycled yet another sloppy knock on cost them.
Even with a numerical disadvantage, it was the visitors who looked more threatening with ball in hand.
Ironically enough, when Corson returned to the pitch, Ireland enjoyed their best spell of the game.
They battered away at the French wall and on the hour mark thought they had got over for a try, only for the TMO to rule that they had been held up.
From the scrum, Cronin linked well with Ali Miller who had darted off her wing but she was held up short. It was a remarkable defensive effort as they eventually forced the turnover.
It was energy sapping stuff but Ireland refused to give in. France on the other hand already had one eye on their semi-final meeting with England as they rung the changes. An injury eventually forced Murphy off but she put in another huge shift.
Ireland continued to play the game in France's half but it was as if their opponents were toying with them. Even the weather man was rubbing it in as the forecasted rain that would have helped Ireland arrived in the dying stages.
Ireland eventually broke France's resilience in the last play of the game when Moloney powered over from close range.
And so, a tournament that promised so much for Ireland ended without them ever really firing a shot. A long week in Belfast lies ahead.
Ireland: H Tyrrell; E Considine, J Murphy (L Galvin 64), S Naoupu, A Miller; N Stapleton (K Fitzhenry 61), N Cronin (L Muldoon 75); L Peat, L Lyons (C Moloney h-t), A Egan (R O'Reilly 71); S Spence (H O'Brien, 57), M-L Reilly; C Griffin, C Molloy (capt), P Fitzpatrick.
France: M Amedee; C Pelle, C Ladagnous, E Poublan, S Izar (C Grassineau 52); C Drouin (C Neisen 69), Y Rivoalen (J Le Pesq 46); A Deshaye (L Arricastre 46), G Mignot (capt) (C Thomas 64), J Duval (P Carricaburu 49); L Corson, A Forlani; M Mayans (C Ferer, 73), R Menager (J Annery 46), S N'Diaye.
Referee: G Cooper (Australia)