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Hard knocks in France

Last update - Thursday, February 25, 2010, 10:59 By Fiona Coghlan

Fiona Coghlan's Rugby Diary After the second game of the Six Nations campaign, we are not where we would have hoped. We targeted the French game with laser precision, as we had never beaten France on their home turf. We knew it would be a tough task, as France always play well at home, and we were going to receive the backlash of their loss to Scotland the previous week.

We flew in to Paris on the Wednesday afternoon before the match, and after many hours stuck in Parisian rush hour traffic, we eventually made our way to Blois in the Loire Valley. The weather is not what one would have expected in France at this time of year, with temperatures below zero and the ground covered in snow. We were all exhausted by the time we arrived so it was dinner and bed.
As always the French do things in style, and the people of Blois had organised a weeklong festival to celebrate the match. On Thursday morning we met the mayor and were all presented with local chocolates, as well as an amazing book of photographs of the locality. Then we had a stroll around the town, and were invited into numerous restaurants and pubs wherever we went – we were like celebrities!
That evening we went to see the stadium where we would be playing, did a training session in blizzard-like conditions. The session was really disrupted by the weather, but we just had to get on with it.
In our team meeting that night, the girls presented me with a book full of good luck messages for my 50th cap. It was a lovely idea, and a very emotional experience for me reading some of them. I then presented the girls with their jerseys for the game. There was a good atmosphere in the camp – one we would need for the following day.
Friday was soon upon us, and we went through our usual pre-match routine, after which we were given a police escort to the stadium – something that we could do with in Dublin for our games!
When we got there the conditions were thankfully perfect, although it was freezing. And the crowd was already beginning to build an hour before the match. Although you try to ignore the noise of the intimidating French crowd, they were very loud, by kick-off their supporters numbered 5,000 strong.
A big brass band was on hand to play the pre-match anthems. They pitched Ireland’s Call too loud and too high – just another thing that you can’t let bother you.
Then the whistle blew, and the game started at a ferocious pace, with the French putting in some huge hits. Our defence was solid for the opening onslaught, but then the French found a gap in the midfield and went through for a try under the posts.
We regrouped well after this and put immediate pressure on the French line; we were unlucky to only come away with three points. Our concentration dipped again, allowing France to put in a cross-field kick that we didn’t deal with, and they scored in the corner. Immediately we responded by going back down to score another penalty, to leave the score 12-6 at half time.
We knew we were still in the game, but we would have to improve in the second half to get things back on track. Unfortunately for us, France went in for an early try when we were reduced to 14 players. We worked hard for the rest of the half and looked to be making inroads, but our work at the breakdown was not good enough and we turned over the ball too easily. The final score was 19-9 to France.
Despite that disappointment, the after-match function was really something special – a sit-down meal for 400 people at a beautiful building in Blois, with entertainment too. We weren’t in the mood to enjoy it, but we had to get into the spirit of things as they had put so much effort into the whole event.
We got back to the hotel well after midnight. I walked in to find the girls had organised a surprise party for my 50th cap and gave me a beautiful bracelet to mark the occasion.
It was touching, but I would have preferred to win the game than celebrate. We need to move on now and learn lessons from that game.
We have a huge task ahead of us, playing England in London after they’ve comprehensively beaten both Italy and Wales so far in the championship. But we always seem to raise our game against England.

Fiona Coghlan is an Irish International rugby player. Her column appears every fortnight in Metro Éireann

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