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A bird's eye view from the terrace: The Other Six Nations

There are two competitions running parallel to the men's senior six nations which we all follow so passionately - the womens' and the under 20s. Both sides got off to great starts in Italy last week with similar scorelines. The under 20s winning 9-28 last Sunday and the women beating their Italian counterparts 5-26 on Friday. This week the young guns would take on France in Dubarry park while the women were in action after a short 5 day turnaround in Ashbourne.

I wonder did the travelling French support begin to wonder where they were being brought as they travelled down the pot-holed country roads to Ashbourne Rugby Club on Friday night. They can't have been disappointed when they got there though as matchday was well run with parking marshalled by club members and a cracking atmosphere in the bar. The French were in full voice come kick off and seemed set to win the battle of the supporters until about ten minutes in when a couple of coaches of Irish supporters arrived from Limerick and Old Belvedere. At that point Ireland were 0-3 down having conceded a penalty for holding on and the French were just starting to play the nice running rugby game we might have expected. There was some great defence by the Irish side, in particular a tackle into touch by Ireland flanker Claire Molloy. Ireland began to play some rugby in the French half but when France did get the ball an awkward bounce of their clearance kick beat the Irish defender and gave France good possession in Irish territory. They earned a penalty for off-side and increased the gap to 6 points. France claimed the re-start but were turned over a couple of phases later. Ireland were penalised for crossing and France cleared. The clearance kick did not find touch however and Ireland ran back at the French. A clever kick ahead by Ireland 10 Nora Staunton was not dealt with by the French defence and winger Niamh Kavanagh touched down for an Irish try. The difficult conversion was missed by full-back Niamh Briggs.

An error from Ireland with a clearance kick out on the full gave the French the platform of a scrum just outside the 22. A great scrum from the Irish forwards gave turnover and an Irish put in. The hard work was wasted with a knock-on and the French had a scrum inside Ireland's 22. Another big scrum from the Irish pack earned a penalty and Ireland cleared to touch. Ireland were now playing some great rugby. Briggs made a break but the pass to her was judged forward and play was called back. The French scrum was not working for them and Ireland were totally dominant in this area of play - they got another penalty at the next scrum, for a French knock-on, and kicked to touch. They subsequently earned a penalty on halfway which was moved forward 10 for chat but unfortunately the kick was missed by Ireland's 15. This was the best period from Ireland showing some really nice hands but they failed to put any more points on the board and went in at halftime 5-6 down. Given the reputation of this French side, Ireland might have been seen to be lucky to be in touch at half time, but with their dominance at scrum time and long periods of possession and pressure they may well have deserved to be ahead at the break.

France started the second half brightly and were awarded a penalty for an Irish player coming in from the side. The ball was kicked over the dead ball line however and Ireland had a scrum back near half-way. A French break led to knock-on and another scrum and scrum penalty for Ireland. The penalty was kicked to touch but Ireland knocked on in the line-out. France had a scrum on their 5 metre line and cleared to touch. They were then awarded a penalty mid way between the 22 and 10 metre lines but missed. A penalty to Ireland for French players off their feet allowed them to send play back into the French half. France turned the ball over however and kicked through. The Ireland defender put the ball into touch. Another grubber from the French was again sent into touch by the Irish defence giving France another line-out in the Irish 22. This time they showed more patience with pick and drive and were rewarded with a try by number 3. The conversion was missed leaving the score 5-11 with 15 minutes to go.

The Irish scrum had gone downhill - perhaps connected to tighthead Lauren Day receiving treatment. The next scrum, as a result of an Irish knock on, resulted in a French penalty. They kicked for touch, and found it, something their kicker had failed to do repeatedly. Ireland re-gained possession but their clearance kick was blocked down. Ireland were then penalised for a high tackle and France converted the penalty widening the gap to 9 with 6 and a half minutes left. I'm sure Gray and Keys would have had something to say about the restart being blocked down by the ref but as referee Federica Guerzoni of Italy had acquitted herself well to this point I'll just say that the kick was retaken. A French knock-on gave a scrum to Ireland between the French 22 and 10 metre line. The Ireland scrum performed again and earned a penalty which was kicked to the corner. The line-out was cleanly taken and Ireland mauled towards the line. France were penalised and again the kick went up the line. France won turnover ball after the line-out and cleared. The kick went straight to Ireland's star player of the day, full-back Niamh Briggs. Ireland ran the ball back and looked to have numbers wide on the right but they didn't take advantage and the French cover got across. They were penalised however and Ireland again went for the line-out and maul. The French were again penalised and this time the kick was taken quickly. The French intercepted a pass but the ref was playing advantage for not back 10. Ireland took another quick tap and this time the ball went wide to Briggs who scored in the corner. Having failed to land a kick all night, Briggs put over a fabulous touch-line conversion to bring the Irish within 2 - setting up a tense finish. Made all the more tense by the fact that the crowd had no idea how long was left with the clock now showing zero. The re-start yielded a penalty for Ireland in their own 22. The kick didn't find touch and an Ireland knock-on gave the referee a chance to end proceedings.

I must admit its a few years since I've been at a women's international and I was amazed at how much the standard has risen in that time. The game was fast and physical with both teams displaying great skills and fitness levels. The Irish team was unchanged from last week but there are 9 debutantes this season. New combinations are finding their feet - in particular the half backs with converted wing Amy Davis at 9 and Leinster centre Nora Stapleton at 10 - but it looks like Philip Doyle has the makings of an excellent side.

Ireland U20s won the championship last year but missed out on the slam going down 20-15 to France in France. Both teams came into this game on the back of a victory, the French having beaten Scotland. Ireland were missing players from the previous weeks win. Andrew Conway, Brendan Macken, Craig Gilroy and Luke Marshall were all recalled by their provinces. Despite starting well and being the first on the board through the boot of Paddy Jackson they finished on the same side of the result as the women.. Unfortunately it wasn't as close. We caught the last 15 minutes in the Ashbourne clubhouse but by then the game was over as a contest. Ireland held their 3 point lead till the 11th minute when the French scrum half crossed for their first try. It was the 34th minute before the French crossed again but it wasn't the last time they crossed the line in the first half. A half time score of 6-21 left the Irish with a mountain to climb in the second half. There were another 2 tries for the French in the second half before Mike Ruddock's charges put any more scores on the board. France were penalised after a period of Irish pressure. Ireland kicked to touch and drove over from the resulting line-out. Captain, Niall Annett coming up with the ball. This lifted the Irish youngsters and led to a brief resurgence. It led to nothing and with the Irish down to 14 due to injuries to props Finlay Bealham and Conor Carey the French had the last word with their sixth try to leave the final score as 13-38.

Both sides are away for the next two fixtures. The U20s play Scotland the Feb 25th and Wales March 11th while the women have Scotland on the 26th and Wales on March 13th. They then return to home soil for their final fixture of the tournament against the old enemy. Both play on Friday March 18th - the women will be back in Ashbourne and the U20s in Athlone. It's unfortunate that they clash again and as I always make it down to one of the U20 matches with my English brother-in-law that's where I'll be. Ashbourne was a recession busting 10 euro admission including parking and with a visit to Dubarry park only 15 euro, I would highly recommend going along to whichever is best for you to support an Irish rugby team.

by Yvonne Kelly, © 2012-08-30

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