Beware When Irish Eyes Are Smiling

Fiona Simoneau-Byrne (3rd from right ) who since 2007 has built the Marine Nationale Feminines into a formidable team that is well respected throughout France
Royal Navy Women’s skipper, Charlotte Fredrickson, has played in all the previous matches for the Entente Cordial Trophy
Oli Critchley finds herself outnumbered when looking to attack at USSG, Portsmouth last year
Alice Kightley, with Helen Stevenson in support, will have an important job to ensure the Royal Navy’s set piece is spot on
Kate Parkman in action against MN(F) in 2014
Stacey Hargrave looking determined as she takes the game to the French in 2014

When Charlie Fredrickson leads her team out in the impressive Stade Léo Lagrange she will know what to expect having played in all four previous Entente Cordial matches since it became a full XV-a-side fixture.  She is also experienced enough not to be seduced by the pre-match hospitality which is firmly out of the Irish Rugby manual of extending the warmest of welcomes before unleashing a controlled fury of hostility on the pitch.  This is not surprising as behind the scenes it is a French/Irish alliance that combines to plot against the visiting British and so far has produced a series of teams and performances that have ensured the Entente Cordial Trophy has remained firmly in the grip of Marine Nationale Feminines.

Of course it is not new for the French and the Irish to conspire to down the colours of a common foe.  Indeed way back in 1798, during the Irish Rebellion, it was the French who assisted John Moore being declared the ‘First President of Ireland’.  However the modern day alliance is purely a sporting one; since 2007 Fiona Simoneau-Byrne has been both the Manager of the Marine Nationale Feminines and Head of Foreign Languages at the Ecole Navale, Brest.  Her drive and determination was behind the formation of the French team and in turn the first 12 a-side match against the Royal Navy in 2011.  The matches became XV-a-side the following year and the French side has remained imperious on the pitch and good friends off the pitch ever since; Fiona and her team have proved perfect hosts and worthy adversaries.

As last year, so again this year, the voices from France are suggesting that they are rebuilding.  However whether spoken in her perfect French, or her native, soft lilting Irish tones, the messages tend to prove as accurate as a Leprechaun’s promise of a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  Last year it was the power of Number 8, Henault, the control of N’Diaye at fly half and incisive running lines of inside centre, Lechenault, that proved the difference after a bright start from the Royal Navy Women.  The year before, when last played in Toulon, it was again N’Diaye who proved a thorn in the side of Royal Navy Women.  This time playing at centre her partnership with Dourthe proved the catalyst for a number of French attacks that kept the visitors on the back foot and tackling for the all their worth.  Rebuilding?

No for Charlie and her team it will be wise not to listen too closely to the beguiling words beforehand, or to enjoy too much the famous home team hospitality.  Instead it will be better to focus on what has gone well this season, despite the reverse last week to Plymouth Albion Ladies and also to reflect on the times when they have managed to put the Marine Nationale under pressure.  Last year at USSG, Portsmouth it was the home team that started by far the more brightly but were unable to get the crucial scores to turn pressure into points.  The same was true the year before when, in the second half, the Royal Navy pounded the French line but were unable to cross for the important try.  On both occasions a little more composure close to the line would have ensured the good approach play was rewarded on the scoreboard.

Charlie will be leading an experience pack of forwards where Pam Williams-Wilson, Alice Kightley and Kate Parkman form the front row with Helen Stevenson and Rhiann Dilmore at lock and Anne Marie Macintyre and Stacey Hargrave joining their captain in the backrow.

Outside Oli Critchley and Sarah Jenkins continue their half back partnership with Eileen Tuivaga joining Loogle Worsfold in the centres and a back three of Georgie Rowley, Megan Lunn and Drew Powell.  Billi Stait, Sam Bannard, Abi Sondack and Kate Collins are named as the replacements.

Royal Navy Women v Marine Nationale Feminines: Pam Williams-Wilson *, Alice Kightley *, Kate Parkman *, Helen Stevenson *, Rhiann Dilmore, Ann Marie Macintyre, Charlotte Fredrickson *, Stacey Hargrave *, Oli Critchley *, Sarah Jenkins *, Georgie Rowley, Eileen Tuivaga, Loogle Worsfold, Megan Lunn, Drew Powell  Reps: Billi Stait, Sam Bannard, Abi Sondack, Kate Collins

Article by Geraint Ashton Jones
Images by Alligin Photography / © Geraint Ashton Jones @ John Walton