France has ended a 31-year drought without a win on Australian soil, levelling up its series against the Wallabies in a chaotic test match in front of a packed house in Melbourne. Setting up a tantalizing series decider at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.
After botching the final stages last Wednesday night, Les Bleus made sure history didn’t repeat itself, coming from behind themselves in a frantic final five minutes of play after Noah Lolesio kicked truly from 40 metres out to give the Wallabies the lead with four minutes to play.
Losing the scrum feed after the immediate re-start, the powerful French front row forced the breakdown, winning the penalty to take the lead back within minutes. Sealing the 28-26 win.
French fullback Melvyn Jaminet, as he had done all night converted from straight in front to put Les Bleus back in the lead minutes from the final siren.
It was a busy night for referee James Doleman and the TMO, with both sides exchanging early penalties.
Marika Koroibete, who was the Wallabies’ best all night, appeared to have crossed for a phenomenal try after a dazzling run from mid-field, but the TMO overturned it after an earlier knock-on from Tom Wright one-phase earlier from the clearing French kick.
France gained the early ascendancy on the scoreboard, making the most of the Wallabies errors at the breakdown.
After walking away from Brisbane’s after the siren win, the second-year Wallabies coach asked for “accuracy” ahead of the second Test. Instead, his side regularly infringed at the breakdown and was caught off-side.
The breakdown, as it was at Suncorp Stadium, remains a real issue, with the Wallabies often caught not releasing as the big French mid-field sweated on all Wallaby mistakes and made them pay.
Jaminet was a pillar of strength for the French and was flawless on the tee all night, nailing 7 penalties. Winger Damian Penaud was the first to cross over, scoring the only try for the French from some spectacular counterattacking flair.
The Wallabies hit back just before Halftime after front-rower Taniela Tupou found scrumhalf Jake Gordon who crossed over in the corner, playing penalty advantage deep in attack. Lolesio converting from the sideline to close the margin to a 16-13 point deficit at the main break.
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Lolesio levelled the contest with another strong penalty kick early after the resumption, Les Bleus kicked away to a 10 point lead, making the most of Wallaby mistakes at the breakdown and ill-discipline.
As he has so often before, skipper Michael Hooper stood up for his side, receiving after a strong run through mid-field from fullback Tom Banks to cross over in the 71st minute to set up another big finish.
The Wallabies outscored the French two tries to one on the night, but plenty will again be made of Michael Hooper’s decision to spurn goal-kicking opportunities, particularly with how well Noah Lolesio was kicking off the tee.
Twice the Wallabies opted for the kick to the corner rather than taking the option at the three points where they made an error at the line-out and coughed up possession, allowing the French to easily clear their line.
Hooper, Rennie and the Wallabies face big decisions over personnel in the starting 15 ahead of Saturday night. central to those will be whether Taniela Tupou starts on the field again or is deployed as an impact player off the bench. The other is around who will start at scrum-half with Tate McDermott putting in another impressive showing off the bench.
The Wallabies and Les Bleus now head back to Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night for the decider as the Wallabies chase their first series win under coach Dave Rennie.
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