The Wallabies had to rely on an 84th-minute penalty to snatch a 23-21 win over a youthful and depleted French side at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday.
Noah Lolesio nailed a last-gasp penalty as Australia clawed back a 15-point deficit to edge an under-strength France and win a physical opening Test of the three-match series.
A polished Les Bleus looked headed for their first win on Australian soil in more than 30 years, only for victory to be cruelly snatched away at the death.
Winger Gabin Villiere scored two tries for France with Brandon Paenga-Amosa and Michael Hooper crossing for Australia.
But after an erratic 2020 in which they won just one from six, Dave Rennie’s Wallabies were again far from convincing against a French side missing key players and who had just come out of 14 days of quarantine.
Australia dropped too much ball and missed too many tackles early on to fall 15-0 down before a late try sent them to the half-time break just seven points adrift.
France held on in the second half and seemed destined for the narrowest of wins at 21-20 ahead when they secured possession from a lineout with the 80-minute hooter having sounded.
But instead of clearing into touch for victory, a desperate scramble saw a loose pass enable Australia to regain possession in the France 22 and go for one last push, which culminated in the late penalty award.
“I’m proud of our guys. I thought we mauled really well and that applied a lot of pressure to the French,” said Wallabies skipper Hooper, who was playing his 106th Test.
He added that he was encouraged by the fight his team showed but added: “There was a lot of opportunities that we missed.”