SAINT-DENIS, France (AP) — Flyhalf Bernard Foley stepped up at the last minute and scored 15 points to lead Australia past France 25-23 on Saturday.
Foley found out he would replace an injured Quade Cooper a few hours before the rugby test, and scored one try, two penalties, and two conversions in a thrilling encounter at the Stade de France.
With the test not part of Australia's attempt at a grand slam of the home unions, a host of regulars were rested. But the odds improved when Cooper's ankle injury in training didn't pass muster, forcing a start on the in-form Foley.
"He did not try most of the week, thinking he would be with replacements, but he did a good job out there," Australia coach Michael Cheika said.
France was in a buoyant mood after a convincing win over Samoa last week, and unveiled some showy moves. But it was made to pay for poor goalkicking, and it was no surprise when Camille Lopez's attempted dropped goal winner in injury time drifted wide left.
"We made some unforgivable fouls, we lost too many balls, and need to play with more accuracy," France coach Guy Noves said. "I was bored during the first half, we did not show anything good. But fortunately the second half gives us some hope because we managed to pose them problems. We saw what we are capable of doing against guys playing at this level."
France concludes its autumn tests next week against world champion New Zealand.
"The All Blacks are maybe even better," Noves said. "We need to keep developing our game, because if we just watch them play it will be a bad evening."
Cheika was full of praise for the French, lauding Noves for the attacking style he has developed since taking over after last year's Rugby World Cup.
"They are coming back to their attacking rugby," Cheika said. "If they continue like that, they will win matches playing good rugby as well. You can see the changes already, the team is really dangerous."
Playmaker Wesley Fofana and winger Virimi Vakatawa offered some dash, but they were largely contained by Australia.
The French kicked one early penalty and missed another before Vakatawa scored a superb try at the end of a move ignited by winger Noa Nakaitaci. Maxime Machenaud missed the conversion and Australia hit back.
Luke Morahan burst through the defense and earned a penalty that Foley converted. The visitors then went in front following a powerful scrum push, forcing Charles Ollivon to collapse the maul on the line. The French flanker was sin-binned and Australia was awarded a penalty try converted by Foley for a 10-8 lead.
Following a Foley penalty from 40 meters out, the French replied before halftime through Machenaud's boot, after Australia collapsed a scrum inside its 22.
"We were beaten in the scrum area," Cheika said. "We've come a long way in the scrum, but there was a combination of tactics that did not work for us."
France's defense then cracked under a series of powerful drives near their line. Foley received the final pass and managed to sneak into a hole to make it 18-11, then converted his try.
Vakatawa dazzled in a second-half run to the tryline, where he offloaded for flyhalf Jean-Marc Doussain to touch down.
Wallabies center Tevita Kuridrani immediately restored his team's lead with an acrobatic finish in the corner after France's defense failed to close him down.
Back came France, as Nakaitaci surged through the midfield and Fofana touched down following excellent passes. Machenaud converted and France was within two points. The French pushed hard to 10 meters out from the tryline, but Lopez couldn't cap the effort.
The Wallabies resume their grand slam bid against Ireland next weekend, and finish against England.
"Our preparation for next week," Cheika said, "has to be excellent."