In a night of first for the Wallabies, they turned around a poor start to seal a thrilling 33-30 win over France. After three matches in 11 days to deliver coach Dave Rennie’s first series win as Wallabies coach.
The Wallabies side that ran out against Les Blues on Saturday night was markedly different from the side that lost on Tuesday night.
Coach Dave Rennie made eight changes to the starting team, pinning his hopes on fresh legs, with Len Ikitau, Tate McDermott, and Darcy Swain getting the first starts of their respective careers.
Reece Hodge was brought into the 23, as was Felipe Daugunu, who started on the wing. Hodge, in his return from injury, was cover for the outside backs.
The night started as poorly as anyone could have imagined as Wallabies winger Daugunu suffered a wrist injury and was replaced by Hodge within the first three minutes.
The starting wing duo’s night was over moments later, as Marika Koroibete was controversially sent off for a high tackle on French captain Anthony Jelonch in the fifth minute.
The Wallabies were immediately condemned to playing with one less player, making the fresh legs all the more important. The French made them pay almost immediately, as Baptiste Couilloud dived over for the first try.
The Wallabies were forced into a tactical shift with the loss of Koroibete, and it showed immediately, The shift was made to play territory, but to kick after the second or third phase, when the French defensive line was on the back foot.
Rennie spoke after the game about the way the team handled the adversity of Koroibete’s early finish.
“We talked a lot about character, it was an opportunity to stand up and show the country how tight this group is, and that we’re prepared to work hard,” Rennie said. “We saw that in spades tonight.”
“It was a massive defensive effort. We were put under pressure from set-pieces a couple of times, but we showed a lot of steel tonight, which was pleasing,” Rennie said.
The Wallabies intent to attack the French defensive line was evident as Wallabies captain Michael Hooper found a gap off a set-piece and then found McDermott on an inside pass to send the scrumhalf over for his first international rugby try.
The Wallabies scrum continued to work hard and succeed, drawing repeated penalties, but were unable to capitalise on them.
Noah Lolesio, after a strong series, snagged an intercept and dashed in for a try against the run of play just before halftime. It marked one of the high points of the series of Lolesio, who has played flyhalf all series for the Wallabies.
One of the other highlights for Lolesio has been his goalkicking. Lolesio has kicked straight all series, with just a couple of misses to his name, and has proven clutch, with the chance to kick for the lead late in the game, making the most of all his opportunities.
Lolesio’s cool has not been the only positive of the series, as Taniela Tupou has also starred. As an impact player off the bench, The Tongan Thor has had a huge impact in each match and did so again in the decider.
Not only did he continue Australia’s scrum dominance when he came on in the second half, but he found a way to score a try. Tupou grabbed the ball from a breakdown just a metre out and burrowed under the French defence to put the Wallabies level with the French at 27-27.
From there, Lolesio kicked two penalty goals, to put the Wallabies up 33-30. The French were given one final opportunity with the ball inside the Wallabies half after the siren.
Opting to go for the win, they kicked for touch, and on the ensuing lineout, Darcy Swain, in his first start, managed to disrupt the French maul and secured the turnover to give the Wallabies a win.
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Rennie complimented his side’s progression over the match and the series, as they held on for a tight victory, and the series win.
“We got better as the series went on,” Rennie explained. “We were better in Melbourne, even though we finished second, and we created a lot of opportunities.”
“It was tough with 14, from a strike point of view, but we played smart and kicked a lot better tonight and applied pressure through that,” he continued.
It was coach Dave Rennie’s first series win as Wallabies coach after the Wallabies won just one test match during Rennie’s COVID-affected first season.
Rennie will take some time with the group before they reset and look ahead to that clash.
“We’ve got a bit of time to reflect, but I’m incredibly proud of them, and they showed amazing character,” he finished.
The Wallabies will now turn their attention to the Bledisloe Cup which starts on August 7.