The Wallabies have survived a French comeback attempt to continue an undefeated Spring Tour campaign, 23-25, in Paris.
Despite threatening to run away with the match in the second half, the Wallabies allowed the French back into the match on several occasions and if not for a missed drop goal would have returned to the UK with yet another blot on the 2016 season.
With several players auditioning for more regular places in the Wallabies starting XV, David Pocock impressed with the captaincy and with the #7 jersey on his back, while debutant winger Sefanaia Naivalu demonstrated why his arrival on the test scene has been so eagerly anticipated.
New combinations showed promise in attack, but an inability to stave off wide French raids will be cause for concern for Michael Cheika and defence coach Nathan Grey.
The Australian lineout was the best the Wallabies have seen this year with jumping combination Rob Simmons and Scott Fardy soaring above their counterparts.
Despite starting the match with 10 changes from last week’s victory over Scotland, the Wallabies mirrored their early attacking intent against Wales in the French capital.
Winger Sefanaia Naivalu came within inches of chasing down a speculative grubber kick in-goal, but a bobbled finish denied the Melbourne Rebel an excellent debut try in the opening exchanges.
France rode referee Glen Jackson’s whistle upfield and converted a sixth minute shot at goal through scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud.
A 15th minute penalty-miss sparked the French attack, roaring upfield from the restart with a series of offloads and broken tackles.
Australia’s umbrella defence exposed, though excellent scrambling defence and a prowling David Pocock threatened to halt French momentum, but powerhouse winger Vakatawa forced his way through contact on the left wing to extend the French lead to eight-points in the 17th minute.
The return of Scott Fardy and Rob Simmons to the starting team, with the injection of Waratahs hooker Tolu Latu, had the lineout purring.
A rolling maul looked certain to score when French flanker Charles Ollivon dragged it down, earning a yellow card and Australia a penalty try for the lead, 8-10.
The lack of French structure hamstrung attacking opportunities for the remainder of the half, but the new combinations in the Wallabies also failed to click for long stretches in the first.
Wallabies captain David Pocock continued his strong return to the openside flank by winning a penalty on the French 40 metre line.
Bernard Foley stepped to the plate and kicked Australia ahead, 8-13.
France would have the last laugh of the half as prop James Slipper was penalised for angling in, gifting France another penalty to close the half, 11-13.
Halfback Will Genia rejected a 15m penalty shot within seconds of play resuming, taking a quick tap.
The French defence held firm for 16 phases before a slick angled run from Foley slipped the Australian playmaker by the French defence to score.
The Wallabies attack was back to it’s very best as an excellent Luke Morahan run broke the line, though Naivalu again could not control his finish.
With runners in motion hitting the line at speed, it seemed just a matter of time until the racing Wallabies left the French behind in their wake.
However, France exposed Australia’s defence out wide again as Virimi Vakatawa and Scott Spedding combined on a threatening run, leaving the finish to flyhalf Jean-Marc Doussain.
Just five minutes later an acrobatic finish from Tevita Kuridrani extended the margin back out to nine points, 16-25.
Setting up a nail biting finish, the French wings again cracked the Australian umbrella defence through excellent play from Vakatawa.
Drawing three before offloading to support, France surged into the Australian 22 before finding a hole in midfield for centre Wesley Fofana.
A successful conversion from Machenaud in the 67th minute gave hope to the capacity crowd in attendance at the Stade de France.
France continued to apply pressure on the Australian line, requiring try-saving tackles from substitute Stephen Moore and a match-saving turnover from David Pocock.
A French knock-on with minutes remaining appeared to signal the end for the hosts, only to turn over the scrum.
France worked upfield and tested the Australian defence with phase after phase before passing back to substitute Camille Lopez for the drop goal, 40 metres out.
A narrow miss saved the Wallabies undefeated spring tour.
Wallabies 25 (T: Bernard Foley, Tevita Kuridrani; C: Bernard Foley 2; P: Bernard Foley 2) defeated France 23 (T: Vakatawa 2, Doussain, Fofana; C: Machenaud; P: Machenaud 2)