Noah Lolesio kicked a penalty after the full-time siren to give Australia a last-gasp 23-21 victory over France at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium and a 1-0 lead in the three-Test series.
France, understrength and fresh out of quarantine, had led from the sixth minute and looked to have a famous victory in their grasp when they had a line-out throw on halfway with 80 minutes on the clock.
The ball went back on their side but would not fall to a man in a blue shirt and Wallabies scrumhalf Tate McDermott threw himself on it to spark an Australian charge at the line.
The gold shirts kept battering away even after they won penalty advantage but the French held out and it fell to Lolesio, who had missed a drop goal attempt three minutes from time, to calmly slot the ball between the posts from the tee.
Lolesio, making only his second start at flyhalf after his debut last year when the Wallabies were thrashed by the All Blacks, said he would be having nightmares about the missed drop goal.
“From my debut to this, I’m so proud of this team, and myself to bounce back like that,” the 21-year-old said. “Credit to the French, far out man, it’s a tough test.”
France, with most of their Test regulars missing, had silenced the 20,000 crowd when Gabin Villière went over for two tries in the first 22 minutes and the place kicking of Louis Carbonel and Melvyn Jaminet kept them in front until the end.
The opening try came in the sixth minute when the visiting pack took a scrum against the head and slick handling got the ball to Villière, who cut inside two defenders to score.
Carbonel missed the conversion but kicked a penalty in the 18th minute to extend the lead and four minutes later Villière was in again. The Toulon winger burst through the defensive line onto a neat inside pass from centre Jonathan Danty and raced away for a score to give the visitors a 15-0 lead.
Australia gradually fought their way back into the contest and got their reward when hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa rolled over from the catch-and-drive to cut the deficit to 15-7 at half-time.
The home side had the momentum going into the second half but they were unable to make the most of their chances, most notably when Banks spilled a golden chance for a try off a Lolesio grubber kick in the 55th minute.
Two penalties for each side meant France still held an eight-point lead nine minutes from time when Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper dragged the ball over the line for a converted try that made it a one-point game.
It was Australia’s second Test victory since the 2019 World Cup and eighth straight win at Suncorp Stadium, where the teams will return for the third Test after the second match in Melbourne.