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PLAYING well and losing used to be a French speciality, but here on Saturday, the French turned the tables on the world champions from Australia, seriously denting the Wallabies' reputation in the process.
The Australians played most of the game in the French half and had more ball than they knew what to do with. Indeed, their excellent line-out forwards won the throw- ins by an outrageous 23 to 9, a tally bettered only by the historic 24-4 count when Australia annihilated Wales in the last World Cup.
But this was not sufficient against the French. Their rock solid scrummaging, desperate defence - led by the ageless Philippe Sella in his 93rd Test - and above all their faultless composure, so often a failing in the past, kept the Wallabies at bay.
'I have never seen an Australian team fail to take their opportunities the way they did,' mused Bob Dwyer. 'We won enough ball to win handsomely but we didn't get the points on the board. And that's the final judgement.'
As a measure of his frustration, Dwyer watched his team take the game to the French virtually throughout the second half with no reward. 'We attacked for 35 mintues and the French scored three points,' he said, the three points in question being a booming penalty by Thierry Lacroix from three metres inside his own half and 15 in from the left touchline.
Apart from the outstanding contribution of the young lock Garrick Morgan in the line-out, the Australians also looked dangerous with the ball in hand. They will no doubt miss Ilie Tabua, out of the tour after breaking an arm. A cracking try for Tim Gavin came from a typical rush combining forwards and backs, David Campese handling twice before flicking a pass to the Gavin.
Similarly, in the back division Tim Horan repeatedly tore holes in the French defence, narrowly missing an early try after scampering 40 metres to the corner flag, while Campese, although closely marked by Philippe Saint-Andre, was his usual ebullient self on the wing.
The French returned to their old virtues of the scrum, effectively disproving the current theory that line- out possession is all. The controlled thrust of the pack not only sapped the Wallabies front row, but also obliged the back row to buckle down, thus freeing France's inside backs. Alain Penaud's and John-Luc Sadourny's drop goals - leisurely efforts, untroubled by marauding flankers - came directly from scrums, while Aubin Hueber, the scrum-half, scored a try running 20 metres from the base of the scrum.
'This is a victory of intelligence,' the French coach, Pierre Berbizier, said. But he warned his players - selected en bloc for next Saturday's second Test in Paris - that they will have to find other solutions. 'If we don't improve our line-out there is no way we can win next time round,' he said.
France: Try Hueber; Penalty Lacroix; Drop Goals Penaud, Sadourny; Conversion Lacroix. Australia: Try Gavin; Penalties Lynagh 2; Conversion Lynagh.
FRANCE: J-L Sadourny (Colomiers); P Bernat-Salles (Pau), P Sella (Agen), T Lacroix (Dax), P Saint-Andre (Montferrand); A Penaud (Brive), A Hueber (Toulon); L Armary (Lourdes), J-M Gonzalez (Bayonne), L Seigne (Merignac), O Merle (Grenoble), O Roumat (Dax, capt), P Benetton (Agen), M Cecillon (Bourgoin), A Benazzi (Agen).
AUSTRALIA: M Burke; A Murdoch (NSW), J Little, T Horan (Queensland), D Campese (NSW); M Lynagh (capt), P Slattery (Queensland); T Daly, P Kearns, E McKenzie (NSW), R McCall, G Morgan, I Tabua (Queensland), T Gavin (NSW), D Wilson (Queensland). Replacement: M Brial (Eastern Suburbs) for Tabua, h/t.
Referee: D Bishop (New Zealand).Reuse content