Rugby Union: Hardy's debut double

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Australia 29

France 15

Mitch Hardy made a memorable Test debut during a 12-minute stint as a temporary replacement by scoring the two tries which secured victory for Australia here yesterday. The ACT wing transformed the match after taking the field in place of the full-back Stephen Larkham mid-way through the second half.

But as soon as Hardy scored his second try, he was pulled out of the action by the Wallabies' coach, Greg Smith, so that Larkham could return after being treated for a facial injury.

Those two tries broke a 15-15 deadlock after France had fought their way back into the game with two tries either side of half-time - from Philippe Bernat-Salles and Thomas Castaignede.

Australia's first 15 points came via the boot of their captain and lock John Eales, who landed five penalties. But the victory, cheered on by a crowd of 31,572, was fully deserved by the Wallabies, who produced a stirring second-half performance after trailing 6-8 at half-time.

Two Eales penalties gave Australia a 6-3 lead but, after making a disjointed start, France gradually found their stride and their growing confidence was rewarded when they scored the opening try after 36 minutes.

Ignoring the chance of kicking a simple penalty in front of the posts, the French captain Abdel Benazzi opted for a quick tap. When Australia infringed again, Castaignede quickly released David Aucagne, who grub- kicked through for Bernat-Salles to beat Tim Horan to the touchdown. Richard Dourthe, who earlier landed a penalty, missed the conversion.

Two minutes before Bernat-Salles' try, a French rolling maul was held up over the line after another tap penalty and from the ensuing scrum Philippe Carbonneau scampered for the line only to be held back by Brett Robinson. Nevertheless, France deserved their half-time lead after holding the territorial advantage for most of the half and Australia looked in trouble.

Australia started the second half positively and three more penalties from the reliable Eales put them 15-8 clear. Castaignede levelled for the tourists when he completed a flowing move from deep within the French half after fine work from Jean-Luc Sadourny and Aucagne. Dourthe kicked the conversion.

Then Hardy struck. Standing at fly-half during an all-in maul four metres from the line, the opportunist Hardy took the pass from scrum-half George Gregan and twice stepped inside off his left foot, beating four defenders. His touchdown gave Australia a 22-15 lead after Eales' conversion.

Ben Tune put Australia out of reach when he raced down the right touchline and kicked inside. As the ball bobbed about, Hardy toed it through twice before falling on it for his second try. "It was something special tonight . . . a great opportunity," Hardy said. "I was looking forward to this game all week and the opportunities fell my way. Tonight was just sensational, you can't dream it better."

Afterwards, Smith said: "I was very pleased with the performance given that it was our first game this season. To beat France is really special. We were having trouble with our set pieces in the first half and because of that they were putting us under a lot of pressure."

The French coach Jean-Claude Skrela lamented a brief period which he said had cost France the game. "We lost the match in five minutes because of two turnovers," he said. "In the first half we played quite well, but could have scored one or two more tries."

Their assistant coach Pierre Villepreux said: "There was a problem with the number of penalties we gave away. We were caught offside in the ruck and we'll have to work on that before the Second Test. But I don't think we're that far behind Australia."

The one setback for Australia was the failure of their gamble to play Horan, usually a centre, at fly-half. The huge French forwards did not allow the Wallaby pack to provide their backs with good ball, often putting Gregan and Horan under intense pressure. The new partnership lacked cohesion and Australia's other backs suffered.

The two teams meet again next Saturday in Brisbane for the second and final Test.

Australia: S Larkham (M Hardy, 59-71); B Tune, J Little, P Howard, J Roff; T Horan, G Gregan; R Harry, M Caputo, E McKenzie, D Giffen, J Eales (capt), B Robinson, D Wilson (T Coker, 51), D Manu.

France: J-L Sadourny; P Bernat-Salles, R Dourthe, T Castaignede, D Venditti (S Viars, 39); D Aucagne, P Carbonneau; F Tournaire, M Dal Maso, C Califano, O Brouzet, O Merle, A Benazzi (capt), O Magne, F Pelous.