French rue chances, Wallabies enjoy tough win
MELISSA WOODS AND JIM MORTON
An opportunity missed was how French rugby coach Philippe Saint-Andre summed up his team's 6-0 loss to Australia in their second test in Melbourne.
On the back of 10 changes following their 50-23 humiliation in the opening Test in Brisbane, France delivered a much-improved performance in an arm-wrestle at Etihad Stadium.
They kept the Wallabies tryless, in stark contrast to a seven-try romp the previous weekend, but a lack of precision in their own attack meant they were unable to cross the tryline themselves.
"Of course it was an opportunity missed," Saint-Andre said.
"At least tonight we matched (Australia) and we were not a sparring partner."
While the Wallabies were denied a first-half try by the Television Match Official Vinny Munro, Saint-Andre said his team should have been in front.
Electric 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 teams were scoreless at halftime for the first time in a Test between the nations since 1958.
"I think at halftime we should have had been at least seven or 10 points in front but we missed a try and two penalties so it was nil-all," Saint-Andre said.
He felt while the home side started the second half well France's discipline fell away with the Wallabies kicking the match-winning two penalty goals.
Although the series was lost Saint-Andre said his team still had plenty to play for in the final Test on Saturday afternoon at Sydney's Allianz Stadium.
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"We were very close tonight and it didn't happen and we need to improve and be more clinical.
"I think we give a big contest and it was a close game."
Australian scrum anchor Sekope Kepu rated the tryless grind more satisfying than their 50-point blitz in the series opener.
Kepu and fellow front-rowers Tatafu Polota-Nau and James Slipper stood tallest for the Wallabies as their scrum overpowered Les Bleus pack at Etihad Stadium.
The set-piece was lauded by coach Ewen McKenzie who, at the same time, lamented his side's lack of attacking patience and precision in a 6-0 victory.
Kepu was delighted the Wallabies showed they could muscle up and win through strength and character, not just when clean ball is laid on a platter for their dangerous backline as in the 50-23 first Test win in Brisbane last weekend.
"It's one of those ones that's probably better for you," the tighthead prop said. "It was just a tougher battle.
"I feel it's more satisfying.
"It was a grind and a test of character tonight and to come away with a win at Test match level I will take a win like that any day."
Kepu admitted there were "a lot of things to fix" for the third Test in Sydney next Saturday but a sixth straight victory showed they were heading in the right direction leading into the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship.
A scrum demolition of the French midway through the second half highlighted the leaps the Australian forwards have made since being taught a lesson by New Zealand and South Africa last year.
"The scrum tonight was a hard-fought battle and I felt like we did a good job tonight," Kepu said.
"(But) this week means nothing, we have to do it next week and again after that."
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