Two penalties enough for Wallabies in victory

JIM MORTON
Last updated 05:00 15/06/2014
Israel Folau
Getty Images
RUNNING FREE: Wallabies wing Israel Folau finds space behind the French defensive line during the second test in Melbourne.

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The Wallabies played out their first scoreless half in 52 years before grinding their way to a series-clinching 6-0 victory over France on Saturday night.

Australia were given a massive fright by the underdogs who attacked relentlessly in a gripping final three minutes but the home side survived at Etihad Stadium for a sixth straight win.

Thumped 50-23 last week in Brisbane, Les Bleus brought their passion and muscle to threaten a 24-year drought-breaking victory Down Under.

Only their famed flair was lacking, but so too was the Wallabies' attacking precision.

After crossing for 23 tries in their previous five victories, they were forced to rely on penalty goals to secure their best winning streak in nine years.

It wasn't the sort of advertisement the Australian Rugby Union wanted for the code in Melbourne with a small crowd of 27,189 looking for tries rather than the raking drop punts they can see in the AFL.

The Socceroos scored more points in the first half of their opening World Cup loss to Chile as the French brought the resistance everyone was expecting at Etihad Stadium.

But it was a victory for the Wallabies' muscle and composure in the face of a renowned Les Bleus revenge mission.

In contrast to the first half when they failed to get inside the French 22, Australia camped out in France's territory after the break and turned the screws.

Flyhalf Bernard Foley put the first points on the board in the 53rd minute following a penalty at the breakdown, while halves partner Nic White put them six ahead 11 minutes later.

White could have ensured coach Ewen McKenzie breathed easier but missed three penalty attempts in the second half.

France were also kicking themselves by missing two of their three-point chances in a first-half arm wrestle.

Not since the Wallabies were beaten 19-0 in Paris in 1958 have both nations kept each other scoreless at halftime.

The last time Australia played a pointless first half was against the 1962 All Blacks.

The Wallabies chose not to chance their arm in their own territory against the full-strength French, bolstered by 10 changes.

Les Bleus' defence, breakdown effort and general intensity were much improved on their first Test effort when they were torn apart in a seven-try blitz.

It was their lack of precision in attack, goalkicking and the set-piece that prevented them building an early lead.

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Dangerous fullback Brice Dulin and halfback Morgan Parra both missed penalty attempts while flanker Yannick Nyanga botched a try-scoring chance by failing to pick up his chargedown on Matt Toomua.

The Wallabies' limited attack was little better, never working their way into the French 22, and vice-captain Adam Ashley-Cooper unsurprisingly rued "poor decisions" at the break.

Lock James Horwill celebrated his 50th cap with a wholehearted 60-minute display in his recall to the starting team, playing a big part in thwarting the powerful French maul.

While disappointed his side failed to score a try for the first time in a win since 2001, McKenzie praised his scrum which overpowered the French pack as the game wore on.

Prop James Slipper was named man of the match, while new skipper Michael Hooper was a constant menace at the breakdown as the game never opened up like the first Test.

"It was a contrast on the scoreboard and it was a contrast in tactics, too," McKenzie admitted.

"It was pretty much a game of chicken in the first half.

"We spent a lot of time playing in our half which we didn't want to do and, in the second half, we had much better shape and got down there and got the pressure on.

"But we didn't convert the shots at goal and we weren't patient enough in the attacking quarter.

"Regardless of what gets written, we showed great character and grit and we toughed out a game that was complicated ... and a game that maybe in the past we wouldn't have won."

Australia 6 (Bernard Foley, Nic White pens) France 0 at Etihad Stadium. Referee: Wayne Barnes. Crowd: 27,189

- AAP

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