With President of Ireland Michael D Higgins among the crowd of over 3,000, Ashbourne RFC was treated to another terrific advertisement for the women's game as the Championship's two leading sides went toe to toe.
Ireland had to do it the hard way, defending furiously as the wind-backed French attacked with vigour and Sandrine Agricole nudged them ahead in the seventh minute from an excellent penalty on the left. The heavier French pack tried to set the tone, but Ireland defended magnificently and the visitors were rocked when a fast-packed 16th minute attack sparked the game's opening try.
Lynne Cantwell, the creative hub of the home backline, thrived on a quickly recycled ruck ball and linked with number 8 Joy Neville who, in turn, brilliantly released Niamh Briggs for a memorable score. The fullback was unable to convert her own try and France swept into a 10-5 lead for the interval, with Agricole impressively converting a try out wide from hooker Gaëlle Mignot following a strong maul.
Turning around with the wind behind them, Fiona Coghlan and her team-mates enjoyed a better share of possession in the third quarter and they certainly made it count with Molloy hurtling through on an initial break. Five minutes in, a well-executed maul drive saw the pack crash over the French line with prop Ailis Egan grounding the ball for a galvanising try, with the home supporters roaring their approval.
Briggs managed to add the extras as the lead changed hands again, and France had to show discipline in defence as the Irish battered forward in search of more tries. It was left to Briggs to notch the match-winning score in injury-time, firing over a late penalty after she had struck the post with a similar effort just minutes earlier.
Ireland showed great collective composure and character to grind out a tight result, especially given the high stakes involved. The green juggernaut rolls on to Italy for St. Patrick's weekend, the final leg of a possible Grand Slam.