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'Let's not celebrate getting close': Wallabies great's blunt assessment after French Test

By Finn Morton
Len Ikitau of Australia runs with the ball during the Autumn Nations Series match between France and Australia on November 05, 2022 in Paris, France. (Photo by Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images)

Wallabies great Drew Mitchell doesn’t believe Australia should “celebrate getting close” against France, after losing to the World No. 2 30-29 in a thrilling Test.

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Flyhalf Bernard Foley got the visitors off to an ideal start at Stade de France, converting a penalty during the first few minutes after a dominant Wallabies scrum.

While tries were hard to come by, with penalties from Foley and France’s Thomas Romas largely dominating the opening half, Australia did score a try of the year contender.

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In the 18th minute Lalakai Foketi finished off a fantastic breakaway from Tom Wright, who linked up with Jock Campbell.

Julien Marchand scored for France after the half-time siren, before Campbell crossed for his first international try mid-way through the second term.

But the heartbreaking moment for Australian rugby fans came inside the last five minutes, when star winger Damian Penaud danced his way around Wright and Campbell to give the hosts a one-point lead – and ultimately the win.

Speaking on Stan Sport after the Test, former Wallaby winger Mitchell said Australia should’ve won that match at Stade de France.

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“Let’s not celebrate getting close, they should have won that game, they should have lost last week,” Mitchell said.

“We see improvement in this Wallabies team but the same things are repeating itself over and over. We should be celebrating a win here.

“It’s hard when we get ourselves in these positions and we find a way to lose the game.”

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Replacement Reece Hodge put the men in gold up by four points with five minutes to play, but the visitors couldn’t close out the Test match.

From the kick-off that followed, as Mitchell highlighted, there were a number of mistakes in key moments which cost the Wallabies.

Centre Len Ikitau caught the kick-off following the Hodge penalty, and made a small half-break through the French defensive line.

Hodge then cleared the ball before having his “ankles broken”, before Les Bleus spread the ball left for what ended up being the match winner.

“It’s got to be within the team, they’ve got to hold each other accountable. They’ve got to stay in those moments, they’ve got to compete in every moment,” Mitchell added.

“We saw in the build up to that try, Ikitau got the ball of the kick-off… it was a poor kick from Reece Hodge so he chased his kick, got his ankles broken, some nice footwork it must be said from (Matthieu) Jailbert.

“Then on the end of that, some poor defence from Tom Wright and Jock Campbell.

“Those moments, you’ve got to be present in that moment. You can’t be looking at the scoreboard thinking, ‘okay we’ve got three minutes to wind this click down.’

“They’ve got to go and compete in every one of them because in each of those moments I just spoke about, every one of them went up chest up, weren’t using shoulders.

“It’s those little moment that differentiate a four-point win or a one-point loss. It’s tough.”

Also speaking on the Stan Sport post-match show, Kurtley Beale said the result showed the “quality” that the French team have.

“Just heartbreaking. The Wallabies had a lot of opportunities to win that game and a quality team like the French are going to make you pay when you’ve got ill-discipline at the ruck, and just missing those opportunities,” Beale said.

“They’ll be hurting for sure.

“They’re a quality team and they bounced back,” he added later.

“The Wallabies threw a lot of punches at them and as you can see, their main players stepped up. Penaud, what a finisher, he’s always in the big moments when France are on the good end of the scoreboard.”

Australia’s record on their 2022 spring tour now sits and one win and one loss after a hard-fought victory over Scotland at Murrayfield last weekend.

The Wallabies still have Test matches against Italy, Ireland and Wales to play before their season comes to an end.

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