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Underdogs Ireland must show their bite to keep World Cup bid on track


By Cian Tracey

Logic suggests that Ireland's World Cup dream will be crushed in front of a packed home crowd this evening but if sport has a tendency to not always follow the script, this team can draw on their experiences of ripping up their fair share over the years.

Make no mistake about it, the challenge that Ireland face against France is huge but this is a group of players who thrive when their backs are against the wall.

Two unconvincing wins over Australia and Japan has justifiably tempered expectations and when you consider the relative ease with which France managed to cruise through their opening two victories, you get a clearer idea of the scale of the task.

Any newcomers to the women's game will have been disappointed by the quality of rugby offered up by Ireland thus far but the players know that they haven't yet given a true account of themselves at the tournament.

It all comes down to this winner-takes-all clash as attentions begin to turn to the semi-finals in Belfast next week.

If Ireland can somehow find the kind of performance that they are more than capable of mustering up, they will give themselves a fighting chance. Anything less and they face the dreaded play-offs.

Coach Tom Tierney warned: "The French are in flying form, they're arguably the team of the tournament so far in the way they've played.

"Look at the games they've played, they've racked up 20 tries already, it's a typical French style of rugby.

"If you let them bring their offload into the equation, if you let them get their maul going in our 22 and big ball carriers come around the corner, you're going to be on the back foot for most of the game.

"You have to get in their faces, you have to put them under pressure, and that's something we've got to do, especially early in the game."

It is no surprise to see Tierney revert back to his tried and tested pack. One wonders if the game against Australia might have been more comfortable had he went with this combination.

Paula Fitzpatrick has had an excellent tournament but she is far more effective from No.8 and her switch from the engine room opens the door for the two best locks on the island - Sophie Spence and Marie-Louise Reilly - to renew their formidable partnership.

Fitzpatrick's return to the back-row will also free up captain Claire Molloy to do what she does best - get in the face of the opposition and upset them.

Ireland's scrum was a shambles in the first half against Japan but Ailis Egan will help solidify that, as will Leah Lyons, who has played her way into the starting team on merit.

So, too, has scrum-half Nicole Cronin, who enjoyed a fine debut against Japan. The Limerick native brought some much-needed zip to the breakdown and her quick service has the potential to get the likes of Sene Naoupu, Alison Miller and the fit-again Jenny Murphy involved.

Ireland's 13-10 win over France in the Six Nations this year was largely based around their ferocity at the breakdown as well as their solid set-piece. All eight forwards who started that night in Donnybrook will be asked to do a similar job this evening.

France come into this pool decider brimming with confidence but they haven't yet had a glove laid on them in the tournament.

Tierney (below) is acutely aware of that and it's something that he believes his side can take advantage of:

"That's the beauty of this. The first two games are over, we've had to solve a lot of problems on the field, during matches, and hopefully that will hold us in good stead," he said. "Especially when the heat comes on. They haven't had any pressure put on them, and they're either going to handle the pressure or they're not. But there's only one way to find out. Get them into a game they don't want to be playing, and hopefully play off that."

If Ireland serve up another sloppy start, the game could be over before they know it but they have been down this road before.

Logic doesn't always prevail. Don't write them off just yet.

Ireland: H Tyrrell; E Considine, J Murphy, S Naoupu, A Miller; N Stapleton, L Muldoon; L Peat, L Lyons, A Egan; S Spence, M-L Reilly; C Griffin, C Molloy (capt), P Fitzpatrick. Reps: C Moloney, R O'Reilly, C O'Connor, A Baxter, H O'Brien, L Muldoon, K Fitzhenry, L Galvin.

France: M Amedee; C Pelle, C Ladagnous, E Poublan, S Izar; C Drouin, Y Rivoalen; A Deshaye, G Mignot (capt), J Duval; L Corson, A Forlani; M Mayans, R Menager, S N'Diaye. Reps: C Thomas, L Arricastre, P Carricaburu, C Ferer, J Annery, J Le Pesq, C Neisen, C Grassineau.

Referee: G Cooper (Australia).

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