France missed the chance at a first win over Australia in Australia for 31 years as the Wallabies snatched victory in the first Test in Brisbane in the final seconds.
Les Bleus had led from the sixth minute and looked like they would hold off the Australian comeback, only to concede a penalty deep into added time, with Noah Lolesio slotting for a 23-21 success.
It was a heart-breaking outcome for France, runners-up in each of the last two Guinness Six Nations, after Gabin Villière’s double had put them in control early on.
They led 15-0 after 24 minutes, and despite tries from Brandon Paenga-Amosa and Michael Hooper, held a one-point lead with the clock in the red.
However, a misunderstanding at a lineout gave the home side a final chance, and eventually Les Bleus strayed offside in defence, giving Lolesio the easy penalty shot to win it.
For captain Anthony Jelonch, leading the team for the first time, there was understandably disappointment at letting the win slip through their fingers.
He said: “We’re very frustrated this evening. Even though it was not the perfect match, we could have won it. And we should have won it.
“This evening we were lacking that final minute yet again. It was a repeat of the scenario of Twickenham in the final of the Autumn Nations Cup. But I’m proud of the team, of everything the guys showed. We said that we needed to be present and aggressive, we were.
“We made the Australians doubt themselves, and that is a satisfaction from this evening. On Tuesday we will do everything to produce a big game and win this time.”
— France Rugby (@FranceRugby) July 7, 2021
France travelled to Australia minus the vast majority of their first-choice players, through a combination of injury, rest and the absence of the Top 14 finalists.
One of those who did start the Championship for Les Bleus was Villière however, and he seized an early opportunity after some good offloading from the French forwards, notably new skipper Jelonch.
He added a second from a first-phase move, put clean through a gap by the impressive Jonathan Danty.
Australia fought back, earning a try before half-time through Paenga-Amosa from a rolling maul to make it 15-7 at the break.
Three more points from Lolesio were cancelled out by Louis Carbonel’s penalty, before a long-range effort from Melvyn Jaminet pushed the lead back to eight points after another Lolesio penalty.
Skipper Hooper then forced his way over from close range with nine minutes remaining to the cut the deficit to one. France looked to have done enough when Danty won a turnover penalty in the 80th minute, but the ball went loose from the resulting lineout, allowing Australia to sneak home.
The two sides will meet again in Melbourne next Tuesday, with the final Test back in Brisbane the following Saturday.