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.
They haven't won in Australia since 1990.
"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."