Hooper hails 'special' Wallabies
It shaped as a disaster but could be the making of Dave Rennie’s Wallabies as they celebrate a defiant series win over France and now eye the All Blacks in New Zealand next month.
A controversial red card to wing Marika Koroibete – Australia’s best player across the first two games of the deadlocked series – threatened to spoil the contest just five minutes into Saturday night’s decider.
Instead, Australia rallied, 21-year-old flyhalf Noah Lolesio scoring a try and kicking the winning penalty as he amassed 23 of his side’s points in a 33-30 victory for a ninth-straight win at Suncorp Stadium.
Down a man for 75 minutes, they defended stoutly, made more of their attacking opportunities and showed progress when their forward pack overpowered the French, who produced sublime rugby of their own.
Scrumhalf Tate McDermott also scored and was effective in his first start while lock Darcy Swain (24) and outside centre Len Ikitau (22) were resolute in their first Wallabies starts.
Rennie was scathing of what he described as France’s “milking” of any high contact, questioning whether it was in the spirit of the game as he signalled an intention to contest Koroibete’s charge.
But he was equally effusive of his men, who he said had given him plenty more to ponder ahead of their next Test against the All Blacks on August 7 at Eden Park.
“I don’t know about that, but I appreciate it,” he said when asked if the win with 14 men would be generation-defining.
“Certainly it was massive for us.
“We’ve been building; we were scratchy first up [in a two-point win], better in Melbourne [in a two-point loss] but turned over too much pill, then tonight was just gutsy.
“We put a lot of young men on the park and they repaid us in spades.
“We’re creating good depth and competition for spaces and this is massive for us because it gives you belief and highlights how tight they are as a group.”
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Lolesio showed poise to slot the match-winner – after erring with his previous kick in what was his only miss of the series – with 90 seconds to go while Swain won a penalty to seal the contest on the buzzer.
Ikitau formed a new centre combination with 23-year-old Hunter Paisami, Rennie making the bold move to leave experienced No.12 Matt Toomua on the bench until the final moments.
Captain Michael Hooper, playing in his 55th Test as captain, ranked it among his favourite wins.
“It’s pretty special; you see our guys react when they’re in the change room, it’s just a huge reward to see smiles on faces,” he said.
“It means a lot to us and the crowd as well; we walk around the stadium … seeing genuine happy faces and we’re able to supply that to a crowd.
“It’s pretty special, something that will stay with us for a long time.”