Wallabies get out of jail: The good, the bad and the ugly

The Wallabies are up and running for 2021, albeit with more than a touch of good fortune after France bottled a lineout clearance and a pouncing Tate McDermott gave Australia one final chance at victory.

After a prolonged hammering of the French tryline, referee Brendon Pickerill finally awarded the penalty he had been playing multiple advantages for, giving Noah Lolesio the easiest of penalty kicks ... and Australia a second win under Dave Rennie.

So what exactly can the Wallabies take from a match they seem destined to lose, and what suggests a better performance might lie ahead in Melbourne on Tuesday night?

Read on as we review the good, the bad and the ugly from Wednesday night's 23-21 win.

The good

That the Wallabies found a way to win, albeit with one of the great boucher efforts of all time.

Take the lineout ball, tap down to replacement scrum-half Teddy Iribaren who then would have kicked the ball out. It sounded simple for the French, right?

Pressure can do funny things to sportspeople, however.

Debutant Wallabies lock Darcy Swain contesting at the lineout, the tactical nous of McDermott to chase through in the hope the French might self-implode, and then the ball retention to work their way to within just a couple of metres of the line, all combined to secure a victory that looked beyond Australia's reach.

It was a helluva way to win a Test match, even if the Wallabies might not have entirely deserved it.

Given Australia drew three games last year, each of which they had opportunities to win, the fact they were able to win in Brisbane is a significant moment for this Australian team, but one that must simply be backed up in Melbourne on Tuesday night.

Elsewhere, after a shaky start at scrum time when poor control at the back created the opportunity for France to score their opening try, the Wallabies largely dominated the set-piece.

That only got better when Taniela Tupou came on at tighthead, while Angus Bell also added plenty in his 17 minutes off the bench.

"I thought we had the edge, I guess that's the way it was refereed as well," Rennie said post-match of the scrum. "I think it was important for us, it was an edge that we got a bit of reward from and gave us field position. But again it's something that we can build on."

The lineout, meanwhile, also largely operated without error.

Given Brandon Paenga-Amosa's checkered record in Super Rugby over the past few years, it was pleasing to see the Reds hooker hit all but one of his targets - an overthrown six-ball just before halftime.

The bad

For the opening 20 minutes, it looked like the two teams might have traded jerseys pre-match as the French played with the accuracy and control of a team that had spent three weeks together churning through 12-hour training days ... and the Wallabies had actually been the ones locked up in hotel quarantine for all but six hours a day.

Fumbles at the breakdown, of which both Jake Gordon and Hunter Paisami were guilty; poor kicking, both in general play and for line; jumbled exchanges of passing inside their own half after consummate French exits - all in all it was a clunky, disjointed and confused opening from the Wallabies in Brisbane.

Some of that can be put down to the fact that it was a 9-10-12 combination playing together for the first time, so too that it was Australia's first hit-out as a team since Dec. 5. But it should never have been so rudderless either, and both Gordon and Lolesio will need to take greater ownership of the team's direction should they be retained.

And then there is the issue that so much of the Wallabies' attack seemed to be run off Hunter Paisami at outside centre.

Given the French employed an excellent rush defence that shut down the space Paisami had to work in, the Wallabies were hunted back to the inside, limiting their ability to operate in the wider channels.

After halftime it was evident that the Wallabies were making a conscious effort to push more traffic through the middle of the field, which sapped more energy from the tiring French and forced the tourists into an increasing amount of errors.

There is an argument to be made that Paisami might be better suited at 12, but given the lack of experience in the Wallabies halves at the minute the presence of Matt To'omua at inside centre, however small it might have been in Brisbane, does have merit.

The ugly

While it was only the first Test of the season, it's natural for any Australian rugby fan to look a little further ahead to the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship, specifically to compare that performance with one that is needed to compete with the All Blacks.

In short, it was well below that marker.

To beat the All Blacks, you simply have to convert whatever small opportunities that come your way.

A rolling ball into the in-goal area, with few defenders around, is exactly that kind of opportunity and Tom Wright will surely look back at the film and wonder why he wasn't able to force Paisami's clever grubber kick.

A winger's job is to finish tries, and Wright understands this.

The Wallabies had similar issues in each of their three draws last season, most notably against the Pumas in Newcastle, when they failed to ice the try-scoring opportunities that fell their way.

As for Paisami's kicking, that is a threat that will keep defensive lines honest.

"No, we told him when he does that cross-kick just to make it a metre or two shorter," Rennie quipped about Paisami's kick that was just out of reach for Andrew Kellaway late in the second half.

"But he's got a pretty impressive kicking game, Hunter, we saw it last year in the six Tests that he played, and his confidence to drop it on his left foot [is there] ... with all our guys we're trying to grow our kicking game because it is an important weapon and I think we missed some opportunities to expose the French through some smart kicks tonight and maybe overplayed our hand at times.

"Hunter's playing what's in front of him; obviously from that lineout drive we didn't get what we wanted, and he's smart enough and skilled enough to poke it in behind and Tom Wright will be disappointed he didn't turn it into a try.

"It's a part of his game that's a real strength and we trust him to make decisions."