A shambolic and undisciplined Wallabies have conjured a miraculous 23-21 win against France after Les Bleus literally threw away the match with the win in the bag.
Leading by a single point with the time up, the French simply had to put the ball into touch from a lineout but threw a wild pass, with Tate McDermott winning possession.
Scrappy for most of the match, the Wallabies finally managed to hold on to the ball for multiple phases and won an 83rd-minute penalty which flyhalf Noah Lolesio converted for the win in front of 17,821 fans at Suncorp Stadium.
The underdog French looked to have won their first Test in Australia for 31 years after a rusty performance from the Wallabies, who seemed determined to kick away possession and squander their chances.
Down by eight with 10 minutes remaining, the Wallabies seemed destined to lose the series opener but the game turned in the final quarter after Dave Rennie made key replacements, including injecting scrumhalf Tate McDermott into the match.
McDermott’s crisp service and link with Queensland Reds teammates Harry Wilson and Taniela Tupou – who also played a key role after his injection in the final 30 minutes – lifted the tempo but the Wallabies’ errors continued to cruel their chances.
They clawed their way back into the match when Michael Hooper scored in the 70th minute but continued to take poor options and make coach-killing errors.
The night was summed up in the 77th minute when, trailing by two points, centre Hunter Paisami took the lowest percentage option, attempting to find debutant Andrew Kellaway on the flank with a crosskick that sailed into touch despite having runners lined up on his outside.
Unforced errors cost the Wallabies dearly in the opening stages, with winger Gabin Villiere notching a double inside 20 minutes as Australia struggled in almost every facet of the game.
From failure to put relieving penalties into touch, turnovers in set play, forward passes and missed tackles, the Wallabies handed Les Blues chances on a platter and the underdog visitors gladly accepted.
Villiere scored the opening try of the match after just five minutes following a Wallabies scrum turnover deep inside their own half.
The home side looked to have responded just minutes later when Hunter Paisami scurried over but the pass from scrumhalf Jake Gordon was ruled forward and when Noah Lolesio spilt a high ball, the French again made hay, with Villiere running through a gaping hole in the defensive line after accepting a simple inside ball.
The Wallabies hit back with a try to hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa from a rolling maul just after the half-hour mark and while Lolesio converted and then guided a penalty through the sticks, the Wallabies botched a late chance to score and went to halftime trailing 15-10.
The pain continued in the second half, with Louis Carbonel slotting a penalty to extend their lead to eight and the Wallabies botching their best chance to score, when Tom Wright failed to ground a Paisami kick that bobbled up in the in-goal.
Rusty showing in opener
It may have been the Wallabies’ first international showing of the year but it was the French who had every reason to show signs of rust.
In hotel quarantine until Tuesday, the French flew to Brisbane just over 24 hours before the match and had far from the perfect preparation. But they were by far the better side in the first half.
It was not necessarily the flashy football the mercurial French are known for but their fundamentals were at least sound, in marked contrast to the Wallabies.
McDermott firms for second match
Jake Gordon was preferred to McDermott as starting scrumhalf for his better service, reliable box kicking and greater experience.
But the Waratahs’ nine made several errors early, while McDermott made the most of his chances and pushed for a start in the second Test in Melbourne next Tuesday.
His sniping runs tested the wearying French forwards but he was also quick to the breakdown and crisp with his passes in a match-turning effort.
Series on the line
The French will be furious with themselves for literally throwing the match away and will want to hit back in the second rubber but the Wallabies would find it hard to be as bad as they were at Suncorp Stadium.
Rennie will consider plenty of changes as his team backs up quickly, with all three matches over in just 11 days.
WALLABIES 23 (Tries: Paenga-Amosa, Hooper; Cons: Lolesio 2; Pens: Lolesio 3)
FRANCE 21 (Tries: Villiere 2; Cons: Carbonel; Pens: Carbonel 2, Jaminet)
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