By Brendan O’Brien
No-one did more to bail Ireland out than Jenny Murphy when Australia had them under the pump in their Pool C opener eight days ago.
Time and again the 5’9”, 12-stone-plus centre put her body on the line with ferocious tackles that stemmed the rising Wallaroo tide before an ankle injury eventually forced her off early in the second half.
Prudence decreed that she should sit out the equally nervy win against Japan last weekend but the Old Belvedere back set the tone for the host nation again last night ahead of their all-or-nothing encounter with the fancied French at UCD.
“They’re not anything to be afraid of,” she said rather matter-of-factly. “A solid team, a nice set piece, but when we’re playing really well we’re sharp and more than capable of dealing with the arsenal of weapons they have. And then some.
“A lot of the talk is about trying to stop France and, yeah, we will. But we’ve got some stuff they’re going to have to stop too. So we’re not too worried about them at this stage. We’re focused on ourselves now and what we have to do.”
Murphy’s words were perfectly pitched. And timed.
Ireland’s stuttering form in their two games to date has tempered expectations ahead of a game that will result in the winners heading for the semi-finals and the losers relegated to the margins in games played to decide the minor placings.
If the World Cup form guide lends itself to pessimism then there is some comfort in the fact that these two teams have so often found little to separate them over the course of the last decade. Even that is to ignore the fact that the French have invariably won.
And if Ireland haven’t shown anything like their best form for some time now, they can lean on the ability to eke out tight victories over not just the French, but Scotland, Wales, and now Australia and Japan in the last six months.
“Sometimes one or two ugly wins will do us the world of good,” Murphy admitted. “This is our kick up the ass. We know what we’re capable of doing and we weren’t happy with some of the performances we’ve put in, but we know what we are able to do.”
Still, the smart money is on a France side that has stacked up well over 120 points in their two games against the same pool opponents. Twenty tries account for the vast majority of that, making Tierney’s side rank outsiders for a get-together in their own back yard.
“It doesn’t really bother us,” he said. “That’s just the nature of it and it’s probably a nice way to go into a game.” It is and it isn’t.
Ireland have been mostly awful until now. The scrum has creaked, the lineout has broken down, tackles have been missed and balls dropped ad nauseum. A kicking game has been conspicuous by its absence. Personnel changes can only partially explain all that.
The positives? The heart shown in clawing two victories from defeat, the impact of the bench and the maul in the final quarters and the fact that the selection policy means only four of tonight’s XV have played all 160 minutes plus stoppage time to date.
If optimism is your thing then you can also point to the fact, as Tierney did yesterday, that the French haven’t “had a glove laid on them” yet, while Ireland have stuck their hands in the fire and know what it feels like to be burned.
Priority number one will be to avoid the sort of painfully slow starts that left them on the back foot against the Aussies and Japanese because the French, like their male counterparts, like to go for the jugular early.
“It’s a typical French style of rugby,” said Tierney. “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, if you let that all happen, 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.”
This, he said, is a cup final. The kind of game where form can go out the window.
Ireland will certainly hope that proves to be the case.
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, P Fitzpatrick.
France: M Amédée; C Pelle, C Ladagnous, E Poublan, S Izar; C Drouin, Y Rivolaen; A Deshayes, G Mignot, J Duval; A Forlani, L Corson; R Ménager, M Mayans, S N’Diaye.
Referee: G Cooper (Australia).