Australia beat France 6-0 at the Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, giving the Wallabies an insurmountable 2-0 lead in the three-match series. In an extremely tight contest, penalties from Nic White and Bernard Foley gave the home side the edge.
After they were humbled 50-23 by the Wallabies in the first Test, the French were sharper and much more cohesive in their play. As such, the first half yielded few opportunities.
France kept the ball well but offered little penetration, while Australia seemed intent on stretching the game, but kicked possession away far too regularly.
The best moment of the first half came when Ben McCalman thought he’d touched down for Australia. The bounce of the ball on the try line looked as though it had fallen perfectly for McCalman, and he pounced to get it down.
But referee Wayne Barnes went to the video official, and Matt Toomua was deemed to have tackled a player without the ball. The try was subsequently scratched off.
Aside from that near miss the French missed two penalty chances, with neither Morgan Parra nor Brice Dulin able to convert. It was scoreless at the break and Australia’s Adam Ashley-Cooper paid tribute to the French team’s ability to hold on to possession:
"We haven't had any attack, they've (France) dominated possession." @AdamCoopy— Qantas Wallabies (@QantasWallabies) June 14, 2014
ESPN Scrum also lent their opinion on an abrasive half of rugby:
Half ends as it has been throughout. Lots of huff, puff, effort and not much entertainment. Half-time at 0-0. At least France competing— ESPN Scrum.com (@espnscrum) June 14, 2014
The frustrating pattern to the game continued in the early stages of the second half, as Australia’s White missed two penalties, the second rebounding off the post.
The first points in the game finally came in the 53rd minute, as Foley slotted a penalty from 15 yards, instigating an enormous roar from the Melbourne crowd. That score prompted a brief flurry of pressure from the Wallabies, but the French were able to stand firm.
But for all the defensive cohesion Les Bleus had showcased to this point, they offered next to nothing from an attacking perspective. They looked a little naive in their forward forays, making crucial errors and bad decisions in dangerous areas, as noted here by the Wallabies' official Twitter account:
France's profligacy was beginning to hamper them defensively too, and their errors started to yield Australian penalties with concerning regularity. It cost them dearly in the 64th minute, as they were penalised within kicking range; White stepped up to double the advantage.
That score seemed to galvanise the Wallabies, and the French continued to make mistakes under pressure. Ashley-Cooper should have scored the first try of the game in the 66th minute, but he knocked on right on the try line.
Australia were intent on giving their fans a try to cheer in the latter stages, as the French began to look increasingly weary under the weight of the relentless Wallabies pressure. But they were unable to find the spark that had eluded them all evening.
France put together one flowing move with the clock ticking down, but once again, a lack of composure prevented them from converting the chance. It meant Australia were able to preserve their six-point advantage come the final whistle and take a hard-earned victory.
Australia captain Michael Hooper and coach Ewen McKenzie both reflected on a frustrating afternoon, as noted here by Rugby writer Iain Payten:
"It was pretty much a game of chicken in the first half" Ewen McKenzie.— Iain Payten (@iainpayten) June 14, 2014
"You have to be able to find a way to win and all the best teams are doing that." Michael Hooper.— Iain Payten (@iainpayten) June 14, 2014
For France, it was encouraging to see a much more competitive and disciplined performance. But in the third and final Test, they must marry the defensive attributes they showcased here with some of the fluid attacking we seen in the first Test.
Australia will be hoping to cap off the series in style and give their supporters a much more entertaining match than this attritional affair. A little more composure in advanced areas and they have the capability to score plenty of points; today, they just couldn't find the guile and ingenuity required.