The Wallabies have started their European tour in the worst possible way, being comprehensively beaten by France in Paris.
For the second game in a row the men in gold failed to score a try in a 33-6 drubbing.
While Adam Ashley-Cooper should probably have been awarded a late try — he was ruled to have been held up — the scoreline doesn’t reflect quite how badly the Wallabies played.
It was a non-performance for the ages and had the feel of inevitable loss after barely 20 minutes. Heads were down, there was no chat, little enthusiasm and the French looked well prepared with fire in the belly.
In the first half the Wallabies struggled to impose themselves on the game in any meaningful way.
Despite a huge amount of possession they hardly looked like scoring a try. Most of their metres were through the middle with a couple of half-breaks that ended after basic errors.
It didn’t help that the French defence was up in their faces quickly and offside, or very close to it, constantly, but for whatever reason the Wallabies backline didn’t put through the kicks needed to turn them around.
By contrast, the French played slightly wider and the Wallabies gave them a bit more time and space.
Their number eight Picamoles bent or broke the line often and got his team on the front foot, scoring their first try from a five-metre scrum.
Dave Dennis was held back by his opposite when Picamoles went through, but Nigel Owens and his assistants didn’t notice and the try was awarded.
There were 18 missed tackles from the Wallabies in the first half – a huge number for any side, but for one that relies on defence as much as Australia, it was hopeless.
With the French ahead 16-6 at half time the Wallabies needed to come out of the blocks firing and make an impression early in the second forty. That didn’t happen.
Instead, the French picked up where they left off, and could have scored off a couple of good breaks from around the fringes.
Knock-ons and a counter-ruck from the Wallabies got the turnovers needed to get out of jail, but they stayed on the back foot.
When Australia finally got into French territory almost 10 minutes into the second half they looked shaky and uncertain as the French put pressure on every breakdown and shut down runners with umbrella defence.
It helped the French greatly that Nigel Owens decided not to penalise them for being offside until the 78th minute.
Still, the Wallabies looked to have no idea how to counter the pressure and should really have kicked more.
Will Genia was the most notable absence by far. The direction and leadership he provides was completely gone and Nick Phipps didn’t handle the pressure well.
Lack of high ball ability – something Genia does very well – proved very costly again, with France making big metres every time they put the ball up.
Fofana scored France’s second try after Freddie Michalak beat KB one-on-one and while it wasn’t all over by then, it was close.
The final nail in the coffin was a penalty try to the French in the 64th minute. It came off the first scrum after the French had been held up over the line.
It was a harsh call from Owens but he’d obviously given up on the Australian scrum, which was actually quite good with the starting front row on, but went downhill when Slipper came on for a Robinson blood bin and then for Kepu.
Almost every subsequent scrum was penalised and the soap dodgers must be salivating at the prospect of facing the Wallabies forwards next week.
Whatever the reality, the perception still exists that the Australian scrum isn’t up to it and that is simply not acceptable.
The Wallabies finally found some go in the last 15 minutes, with the arrival of Moore, Samo, Gill and Barnes adding some much-needed spark. They probably deserved a consolation try for their efforts and when AAC crashed over it looked like they’d get it.
It didn’t happen, though, and that summed up the Wallabies’ night.
France 33 (Fofana, Picamoles tries, penalty try, Michalak conv Michalak, Parra pens Michalak drop) def Australia 6 (Harris 2 pens)