by Brendan Cole
Having already secured the Triple Crown, the Ireland Women’s rugby team will begin their bid for an even more significant slice of Irish sporting history against their French counterparts in Ashbourne later this evening.
Ireland have already beaten Wales, Scotland and, for the first time ever, England to secure the Triple Crown, and confirm their place in the 2015 Women’s Rugby World Cup.
Those goals achieved, the possibility of achieving something even more significnat - a Grand Slam - now beckons.
It will not be plain sailing. Wins against France and an Italian side with a string of good results to their name are needed.
France were WRWC semi-finalists in 2010 and have won four of their last five internationals. Their sole defeat in that sequence, the result that put them out of Grand Slam contention, was to Italy. Ireland will face the Italians away from home in the last round.
They are gearing up for a home WRWC in 2015.
Looking at the history between the two sides, it has been very tight in recent seasons, though France undoubtedly have the edge. They won by two points on their last visit to Ashbourne in 2011 and snatched victory by a point at home last year.
Ireland have only ever won once, taking a 7-5 victory in 2009.
This season France put Wales to the sword at home in Laon and also beat England by 10 points at Twickenham last time out. That was England's first ever defeat at the ground.
But it is not all doom and gloom for Ireland.
The team are on a roll and followed up that brilliant win over England with a convincing victory over the Scots. They have won seven of their last eight internationals, playing some fantastic rugby, particularly in the first half against England and the second against Scotland. At their best are capable of playing superb fifteen-player rugby, in part thanks to a new, more ambitious style brought in by long-time coach Philip Doyle and his team.
As a result of their approach, the chief scoring threat is in Ireland’s excellent back three, feeding off the creativity of Lynne Cantwell at outside centre. It has been their most potent attacking weapon so far.
Try-machine Alison Miller racking up five touchdowns in three games from the wing, while Niamh Briggs has scored two from full-back, as well as knocking over seven successful kicks at goal so far.
Briggs' accuracy from seemingly impossible spots could yet prove important at some stage over the next couple of games.
But the task should not be underestimated, even though beating England means the hardest part ofis out of the way.
Ireland will need to be at their very best from tonight, handling ever growing public expectation, if they are to do it.
Ireland team: Niamh Briggs, Ashleigh Baxter, Lynne Cantwell, Jenny Murphy, Alison Miller, Nora Stapleton, Larissa Muldoon
Fiona Coghlan (capt), Gillian Bourke, Ailis Egan, Sophie Spence, Marie Louise Reilly, Siobhan Fleming, Claire Molloy, Joy Neville
Replacements: Stacey-Lea Kennedy, Fiona Hayes, Lauren Day, Leigh Dargan, Laura Guest, Amy Davis, Grace Davitt, Niamh Kavanagh
Live coverage of Ireland Women v France Women will be on RTÉ.ie (Worldwide) from 7.25pm on Friday 8 March.
Live radio coverage of Ireland Women v France Women on Game On on RTÉ 2fm and RTÉ.ie (Worldwide) from 7pm.