Australia narrowly won an epic series 2-1

Credit: AP

Australia secured an epic series victory over France, holding on to win the third Test 33-30 despite spending 75 minutes of the decider down to 14 men after Marika Koroibete’s red card.

Koroibete was sent off by referee Ben O’Keeffe, who will take charge of the second Test between the British and Irish Lions against South Africa, for a high tackle on France captain Anthony Jelonch.

The wing had been chasing a restart from his fly-half, Noah Lolesio, when his shoulder collided with the upper body of Jelonch. Following numerous replays, O’Keeffe determined that contact had been made to the head and neck of the catcher and dismissed Koroibete.

It was a decision that caused consternation among the Wallabies camp, with injured senior player James O’Connor appearing to accuse Jelonch of play-acting in order to milk the red card.

“We’re trying to get that balance [between player welfare and preserving the physical nature of sport] right,” he told Australian broadcaster Stan Sport at half-time.

“But, for me, if we are playing in the spirit of rugby, that is not something you do. To me, it looked blatantly like Jelonch has been hit, he’s dropped the ball and then he’s reacted because of that.

“It’s pretty frustrating, but it’s brought us together a bit and we’re playing some faster rugby.”

"We need to protect player safety, but we need to protect the game too." @SonnyBWilliams gives his take on the red card 🗣️

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— StanSportAU (@StanSportAU) July 17, 2021

O’Connor was not wrong. After scrum-half Baptiste Couilloud dotted down to complement Melvyn Jaminet’s penalty, Australia rallied from 10-0 behind. Half-backs Tate McDermott and Lolesio scored tries, with the latter also kicking two first-half penalties.

France back-rower Cameron Woki, arguably the player of this captivating series, did reply from close range and the sides were locked at 20-20 after 40 minutes.

The last fortnight has provided another reminder of the phenomenal depth available to Fabien Galthié ahead of Rugby World Cup 2023.

Although they travelled Down Under with an extremely inexperienced squad shorn of their front-line players, France had registered their first away win over Australia in 31 years last Tuesday in Melbourne.

At Suncorp Stadium, they lit up an absorbing decider by fashioning a remarkable second-half try. Couilloud sniped blind from a scrum inside his own 22 and linked with wing Teddy Thomas, who regathered his own delicious chip.

Thomas fed Couilloud and supporting fly-half Antoine Hastoy, on his Test debut, sent centre Pierre-Louis Barassi to the try-line.

It was a 70-metre move that would have left any opponent shell-shocked, and Australia could have crumbled. However, they muscled themselves back ahead.

France go END-TO-END ⚡

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— StanSportAU (@StanSportAU) July 17, 2021

Replacement tighthead prop Taniela Tupou shunted over, with Lolesio converting before rewarding the power of his pack by adding a pair of penalties in the final 10 minutes. Jaminet kept his team within three points, yet one last comeback would prove beyond them.

In a series characterised by dramatic finishes – France were leading the series-opener 21-20 before squandering possession in the 81st minute and losing the game – Australia held out thanks to a last-play maul turnover inside their own 22.

Speaking after the final whistle, Wallabies head coach Dave Rennie saluted the “massive steel” demonstrated by his players.

“I’m incredibly proud of them,” Rennie said. “They showed amazing character and we’ll really grow from this pretty special night.”