It was meant to be the start of a new era for the Wallabies, but it appears they are actually going backwards.
In the Wallabies’ first Test under coach Dave Rennie last year they managed to draw 16-16 with the All Blacks. On their performance in the first two Tests against an under-strength France this year the Australians would not come close to the Kiwis.
The Wallabies themselves conceded they were lucky to escape with a 23-21 win against a second-string France in the first Test in Brisbane last Wednesday night after trailing for 83 minutes.
It was a similar story in the second Test against France in Melbourne on Tuesday, only this time the Wallabies’ luck ran out.
Once again, Australia came from behind to take the lead, 26-25, for the first time with a penalty goal to five-eighth Noah Lolesio in the 75th minute, only for French fullback Melvyn Jaminet to secure the 28-26 win with a penalty goal two minutes later.
Rennie wanted more accuracy, physicality and a faster start, but the game was almost a facsimile of the Brisbane Test. The Wallabies looked far more effective when they played simply and directly, but got themselves into a lot of trouble when they tried to be too intricate.
Their intentions were clear from the start as they shifted the ball wide, but outside-centre Hunter Paisami soon found himself isolated, which resulted in Jaminet opening the scoring with a long-range penalty goal in the second minute.
In many ways the Wallabies looked like the better team in attack, but breakdowns in communication undermined their play, especially in the first half.
A spectacular try to Wallabies winger Marika Koroibete in the sixth minute was disallowed after the TMO ruled fellow winger Tom Wright knocked on in the lead-up following a miscommunication between fullback Tom Banks and Wright which led to the ball bouncing and Wright knocking it forward with his arm.
Three minutes later Jaminet kicked another penalty goal after Wallabies halfback Jake Gordon was caught offside. It was a 10-point turnaround for France and cost the Wallabies dearly in the end.
Not long after another promising Wallabies’ attacking movement broke down following a lack of communication. Koroibete dropped a pass from Banks, who did not anticipate the winger coming in-field.
France winger Damian Penaud scored the first try of the game in the 21st minute. It came after Banks ran the ball out of the Wallabies’ 22, got isolated and lost the ball the tackle. The next thing they knew the French were counterattacking down the right hand side with Penaud finishing a passing movement.
France were much stronger than the Wallabies in the in the close quarters and they got rewarded with a Jaminet penalty goal after hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa was penalized for offside as Les Bleus made a series of pick and goes, exploiting a softness in the Wallabies’ underbelly.
Just like in Brisbane the Wallabies desperately needed a try before half-time. After Hooper passed up a shot at penalty goal for a five metre lineout the Australians attacked the French line. From a ruck on the line Tupou fired a bullet pass to Gordon and he skirted over on the left edge in the 37th minute.
The Wallabies and France traded penalty goals. The French were held up over the Wallabies’ line in the 60th minute, but referee James Doleman was playing advantage for offside and Jaminet put the French further ahead 25-16.
The Wallabies needed to score twice to win. Hooper turned down a shot at goal in the 66th minute to go for a five metre lineout, but the French forwards drove replacement hooker Lachie Lonergan into touch as he tried to drive a rolling maul.
Hooper set up another grand stand finish with a try in the 70th minute. Lolesio put Banks into a gap and he linked with outside back Andrew Kellaway, who found Hooper in support. Lolesio converted from out wide to make it a two-point game with eight minutes remaining.
Then, Lolesio put the Wallabies in front for the first time with a pressure 40-metre penalty goal with five minutes to go after the French were offside.
Jaminet responded with a penalty goal, his eighth goal from eight attempts, in the 77th minute after the Wallabies collapsed a scrum to give France a 28-26 lead.
The Wallabies had one last chance to save the game on the bell, but this time they were not good enough. A wobbly clearing kick from the French gave them possession about 40 metres out, but in the ensuing movement second-rower Lukhan Salakaia-Loto was penalised for not releasing the ball in a tackle.
Unlike Brisbane when the French messed up their last play of the game to allow the Wallabies to steal the win they made sure the ball was kicked out this time.
Despite the Wallabies’ poor performance in Brisbane, Rennie backed continuity in selection, making only one to change to the run on side with tight-head prop Taniela Tupou starting.
While continuity is important, there is no point promoting a continuance of poor play. Rennie has hinted he will make changes for the series-deciding third Test in Brisbane on Saturday night. He must if he is to find out the Wallabies’ best combination for the Bledisloe Cup and the Rugby Championship.