The Wallabies’ 2014 pattern of one step forward, two steps back continued with a disappointing 29-26 defeat to France in Paris on Saturday.
The hosts opened the scoring through a try to halfback Sebastien Tillous-Borde in the sixth minute and were never headed, despite Australia fighting back from double-digit deficits in each half to get within striking distance.
France led 17-6 after a blistering try to winger Teddy Thomas – his fourth in two Test appearances – but ageless veteran Adam Ashley-Cooper powered over for the Wallabies in the 34th minute and Bernard Foley’s third penalty cut the halftime gap to just one point.
But France kicked their way to a 29-19 advantage inside the final 10 minutes as discipline, and a few head-scratching decisions by under-fire ref Nigel Owens, plagued Australia’s cause.
Replacement flyhalf Remi Tales was contentiously yellow-carded with seven minutes remaining, and the Wallabies capitalised as Rob Simmons scored the only try of the second stanza, but it was not enough to overhaul the spirited French outfit.
Uncustomary shaky handling and poor execution also brought Australia undone, and a daunting challenge against Six Nations champs Ireland – who trounced Georgia 49-7 on the weekend – looms on Saturday.
All Blacks scratchy against gallant Scots
Steve Hansen’s experimental All Blacks line-up – featuring 13 changes to the side that beat England last week – struggled to put away Scotland, eventually notching a 24-16 win in a grim Test at Murrayfield. All eyes were on injury-plagued Dan Carter in his comeback start, but the No.10 legend was well below his best, making several errors and missing a couple of regulation shots at goal in a 55-minute performance before surprise wing selection Colin Slade took over.
New Zealand started strongly with Victor Vito scoring a barnstorming try in the ninth minute, but when Scotland scrumhalf and captain Greig Laidlaw snaffled an intercept try from a Richie McCaw pass, the hosts began to believe. Scotland trailed by just one point for most of the dour second half, before a try to Jeremy Thrush effectively sealed the result.
South Africa pip England in thriller
The Springboks held off a rallying England side 31-28 in an exciting Test at Twickenham. South Africa led 13-3 during the first half, and kicked away to a 20-6 advantage fullback Willie le Roux set up a sensational try to halfback Cobus Reinach a minute into the second stanza.
England refused to throw in the towel, though, scoring two quick tries after Victor Matfield was yellow-carded, levelling the scores at 20-all. Schalk Burger put South Africa back in front with a five-pointer, while flyhalf Patrick Lambie later gave the tourists a crucial eight-point buffer with four minutes to go with a sharp drop goal. England’s Durban-born centre Brad Barritt scored in the dying stages to give the men in white a last-gasp chance at snatching victory, but the Springboks held on for the win.