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BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Noah Lolesio kicked a penalty goal in stoppage time to give Australia a 23-21 comeback win in the series-opening test against a depleted France lineup on Wednesday.

Winger Gabin Villiere scored two early tries as France raced to a 15-0 lead in the 21st minute in their first match after spending two weeks in strict quarantine.

The French still had an eight-point lead late in the game but an errant pass in the last minute cost them.

The French won a lineout on their quarter and should have kicked for touch to end the game, but a wayward pass gave Australia another chance with seconds on the clock.

The Australian forwards launched phase after phase at the French line in a bid to capitalize on a series of penalty advantages but were unable to score or get a clear pass to Lolesio, who was in the pocket ready to take a dropped goal.

The rookie flyhalf had his attempted dropped goal blocked, but calmly slotted a penalty shot from directly in front to give Australia victory. The teams are playing three tests in 11 days, with the second match in Melbourne next Tuesday.

The inexperienced French squad went into the match on limited practice, yet it was the Australians who lacked cohesion in their first test of the 2021 season.

The scrappy encounter was played in front of 17,821 fans, with a crowd allowed into Suncorp Stadium four days after Brisbane finished a snap four-day lockdown following a small surge in COVID-19 cases.

The French sweated on Australia’s errors and made the hosts pay, starting in the 6th minute when a scrum against the head resulted in the ball going left to Villiere, who angled in from the left wing and scored almost untouched.

Australian center Hunter Paisami bumped his way over in the 13th after a hard, straight run but the try was disallowed for a forward pass.

France made it 8-0 with a penalty goal in the 19th and extended the margin to 15 after Lolesio knocked-on a straight-forward catch from a kick.

The resulting French scrum was going backward before the ball shifted to the midfield and Jonathan Danty fed a quick inside ball to Villiere, who came off the blind wing into a huge gap and scored untouched.

Australia reduced the margin to 15-7 at the break when hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa barged over in a driving maul.

Australia wasted another try-scoring opportunity in the 55th before Australia captain Michael Hooper crossed from close range in the 71st to set up the dramatic finish.


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