France did just enough to see off the Wallabies 29-26 in Paris on Saturday, reports BRENTON CHELIN.
It was a quintessentially French performance. Dazzling at times, infuriating at others – France made hard work of what should've been a straightforward victory. They dominated the visitors at the contact point, in open play and at the breakdowns. Their set pieces were untroubled and their defence too fierce for the Wallabies to contend with. Still, when Will Genia broke clear in the 79th minute, they came so near to losing it all.
It was a performance that we know France are capable of, but one that has become a rare occurrence in recent seasons. Their decision to overload the breakdown put Australia on the back foot and the pace of their defensive line forced errors from the Wallabies as Wales had done to good effect last weekend.
For coach Michael Cheika it was a sobering reminder of how far the Wallabies remain behind the Springboks and All Blacks, despite their IRB ranking.
The French, brimming with passion, were full of intensity from the kick-off. Scott Spedding in his second start for France almost went over in the corner following a flowing move involving right wing Yoann Huget. It wouldn't take long for the French to get their first try, after James Horwill coughed the ball up inside his own 22.
France easily got across the advantage line from the resulting scrum and scrumhalf Sébastien Tillous-Borde dived over unopposed. Their hard work was somewhat undone a minute later as Bernard Foley responded with a penalty after France failed to secure the kick-off.
Camille Lopez restored France's seven-point lead with a penalty, before Foley made the home side pay once again following more sloppy work trying to exit from the kick-off. It was France who were making all the play, but their dominance was hardly reflected on the scoreboard.
They would soon be rewarded for endeavour, after yet another Australian handling error. France swiftly launched a counter-attack, swinging the ball wide to new sensation Teddy Thomas. The Racing Métro wing, who endured a shaky start to the match, showed just why he has the French public so excited.
Receiving the ball on the left, he stepped inside two defenders before standing up Nick Phipps and beating him around the outside. The covering Adam Ashley-Cooper couldn't get across in time and Thomas had his fourth try in two matches.
Australia responded with a try of their own through Ashley-Cooper, before another Foley penalty meant they trailed by just one point at the break.
After the exploits of the first half, the second was a more edgy affair. Two more Lopez penalties gave France some breathing room, while Foley kept Australia in with a shout. Replacement scrumhalf Rory Kockott looked to have done enough to secure the win with a penalty nine minutes from time, which opened up a 29-19 lead, but that would be too easy for the French.
Following a great break from Israel Folau, the ball was recycled for Rob Simmons to go over and set up a grandstand finish. However, the French managed to hold on for a deserved victory and restore some pride after the hammering they took Down Under earlier this year.
France – Tries: Sébastien Tillous-Borde, Teddy Thomas. Conversions: Camille Lopez (2). Penalties: Lopez (4), Rory Kockott.
Wallabies – Tries: Adam Ashley-Cooper, Rob Simmons. Conversions: Bernard Foley (2). Penalties: Foley (4).
France – 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Alexandre Dumoulin, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Teddy Thomas, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Sébastien Tillous-Borde, 8 Damien Chouly, 7 Bernard le Roux, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (c), 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Pascal Papé, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Alexandre Menini.
Subs: 16 Benjamin Kayser, 17 Uini Atonio, 18 Xavier Chiocci, 19 Alexandre Flanquart, 20 Charles Ollivom, 21 Rory Kockott, 22 Rémi Talès, 23 Mathieu Bastareaud.
Wallabies – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Leali'ifano, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Sean McMahon, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 James Horwill, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Saia Fainga'a, 1 James Slipper.
Subs: 16 James Hanson, 17 Benn Robinson, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Matt Hodgson, 21 Will Genia, 22 Quade Cooper, 23 Rob Horne.
Photo: Franck Fife/Getty Images