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Thursday 23 November 2017

Time to 'stand up and fight'

Ireland v France (Belfield, Today, RTé2, KO7.45)

The Ireland team during the Ireland Women's Rugby Captains Run at UCD in Dublin
The Ireland team during the Ireland Women's Rugby Captains Run at UCD in Dublin

This can go one of two ways for Ireland.

The hosts can continue to fall short of the standards set and get blown away or they can embrace their responsibility and be inspired to deliver for their country as they have done in the recent past.

Coach Tom Tierney has turned back the clock to February, calling on the exact same pack and a dozen starters in total from the side which cut down France in the Six Nations.

Centre Sene Naoupu, full-back Hannah Tyrrell and scrum-half Nicole Cronin are the three differences tonight.

Off-guard

It is no accident that the changes come in the back division where Ireland have just not been convincing since catching New Zealand off-guard in the last World Cup.

Tierney has sacrificed the speed of Cliodhna Moloney and Ashleigh Baxter for the know-how of hooker Leah Lyons and flanker Ciara Griffin.

Ireland come into this pivotal match without the form or the pressure that can be a burden to any team in green.

Perhaps, it is just as well they will enter as outsiders to overcome the nation Tierney argued have shown the best form in the competition.

"It is a Cup final and there have been a lot of Cup finals, in all different sports, where the underdog has done it," said the coach.

"We're very, very confident. We've got a really good solid team, a solid eight players coming off the bench, if needed."

It will all start and end with the application of what is certain to be a tried and trusted game-plan.

Ireland have to rock the French physically, be direct, exert pressure and win the battle for territory.

Or else, they are going nowhere more glamorous than the 5th-8th place play-off.

Apparently, the negative vibe outside the camp based on Ireland's two unimpressive wins has not seeped through.

"It doesn't really bother us," said Tierney. "That is just the nature of the whole thing and it is probably a nice way to go into it."

In fairness, France have assembled seven of the eight forwards - Annaelle Deshayes comes in at loose-head - and three of the backs that fell to Ireland six months ago.

This alone will provide certainty for Ireland in that they will know exactly what works and what doesn't against familiar foes.

It could just come down to the effectiveness of the half-backs Nicole Cronin and Nora Stapleton.

The speed of Cronin's service is her greatest strength, suggesting Ireland may move the ball.

However, it is the passing that should give Stapleton the extra split-second to identify and find grass from the boot.

If the forwards can access the aggression, and accuracy to match it, their half-backs can put France in a vice-like grip.

Or else, the dream will die a slow death.

IRELAND: H Tyrrell; E Considine, J Murphy, S Naoupu, A Miller; N Stapleton, N Cronin; L Peat, L Lyons, A Egan, S Spence, ML Reilly, C Griffin, C Molloy (capt), P Fitzpatrick.

FRANCE: M Amedee; C Pelle, C Ladagnous, E Poublan, S Izar; C Drouin, Y Rivoalen; A Deshayes, G Mignot (capt), J Duval, L Corson, A Forlani, M Mayans, R Menager, S N'Diaye.

Verdict: France

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