Michalak steers France to win over Wallabies
PARIS - Frederic Michalak scored 15 points as he steered France to a convincing 33-6 victory over Australia on Saturday to move the home side into fourth place in the IRB rankings ahead of next month’s World Cup draw.
Michalak claimed a perfect kicking record of six from six with two penalties, three conversions and a drop-goal, and the mercurial fly-half set up the second of France’s tries by Wesley Fofana.
No 8 Louis Picamoles had scored the home side’s first five-pointer, the third coming by way of a penalty try.
The Toulon playmaker importantly marshalled a magnificently disciplined French defence that survived sustained periods of pressure, notably in the first half in which full-back Mike Harris scored Australia’s two sole penalties.
“The defence was great, we didn’t crack and didn’t concede a try,” said Michalak.
“It’s great, the sign of good teams which have a solid defence and don’t let anything through.
“It’s a great win, but we will again have to go to work because Argentina are coming next week, and they won today (against Wales).”
Australian coach Robbie Deans said: “It was a very complete performance from the French.
“They were too good for us tonight. They grew in confidence, it was an arm wrestle for a bit, but they deserved their victory.”
France full-back Brice Dulin’s early effort at a drop-goal went askew but Michalak nailed his first penalty from the next phase of the game after Wycliff Palu was caught offside, Harris levelling shortly after.
France showed their attacking intent by spurning a shot at goal when Australia infringed three times at the first proper scrum test.
And it paid off when Picamoles went barging through a gaping hole on the blindside for a try Michalak converted.
Harris pulled back three points with his second penalty as France went to ground in a ruck close to their own line.
The Wallabies were content to camp out in French territory and dominate possession, going through dozens of pick-and-go’s before fly-half Kurtley Beale tried to exploit any overlap on the wide.
But that tactic floundered as final passes went amiss and the disciplined French defence held firm with some stout tackling led by Nyanga and centre Maxime Mermoz.
When Picamoles wrestled a ball free from a ruck and launched a rare sortie into the Australian half, the crowd rose to their feet, only to sigh in despair as supporting debutant prop Yannick Forestier failed to hold on to the pass.
Against the run of play, Michalak kicked a second penalty after Sekope Kepu failed to roll away from a ruck and then struck a perfect drop-goal to put France 16-6 up at half-time.
Hopes that the French would not capitulate as they had done in their 59-16 thrashing by the Wallabies in 2010 after leading 16-13 at half-time were raised as Les Bleus took the game to the visitors early in the second period.
Winger Fofana linked up with flankers Fulgence Ouedraogo and Nyanga, playing his first Test since 2007, to threaten the Australian line.
When Michalak ghosted his way around Beale, the 30-year-old Toulon playmaker obviously didn’t have the legs for the line, but Fofana came racing up in support to score a try Michalak converted.
Welsh referee Nigel Owens then had no hesitation in handing the French a penalty try after an increasingly ragged Australian scrum fell into disarray on their line.
With replacement Rob Simmons lucky to escape a sanction for a spear tackle on the impressive Nyanga, Adam Ashley-Cooper was denied a try by the video referee.
Replacement Morgan Parra had the last word with a long-range penalty to leave France one point off their record 34-6 win over the Wallabies in 1976 and Australia coach Robbie Deans much to ponder before taking on England at Twickenham next weekend.