Rugby: Australia push for series win over France in Melbourne

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Rugby World Cup - Australia Captain's Run
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By Ian Ransom

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Having pulled off a great escape against an understrength France in Brisbane, Australia will seek to run away with their first series trophy in seven years by beating 'Les Bleus' in Melbourne on Tuesday.

The Wallabies reeled in a 15-0 deficit to claim the opener 23-21 at Lang Park last Wednesday but won few admirers for a scrappy victory that was ultimately gifted by a French turnover from a lineout after the siren.

A more assured performance at Melbourne's Rectangular Stadium would help win over the sceptics and deliver the Wallabies a first series triumph since beating the French 3-0 at home in 2014, following defeats to touring England (2016) and Ireland (2018.

Knocking off a French side shorn of a slew of first-choice players may do little to impress southern hemisphere heavyweights South Africa and New Zealand, who lie in wait at the upcoming Rugby Championship.

However, it would give the Wallabies some hope they are moving in the right direction under Dave Rennie after failing to close out a string of tight matches in the New Zealander's first season in charge in 2020.

Wallabies captain Michael Hooper spoke for all Australian fans when he said he hoped for "significant" improvement in Melbourne, where coincidentally they sealed the 2014 series against the French with a grinding 6-0 win at Docklands Stadium.

"We think we’ve got so much more in us," Hooper told reporters on Monday.

"We think we can do some damage to these guys. Obviously they're going to take it up another level this week.

"They’re going to be bringing a hell of a lot of emotion, physicality."

Home fans will hope Australia bring safe hands and leave the emotion in the changing room in the second match of the three-test series after a ragged, jittery display in Brisbane.

Pundits expected some punitive selection calls but Rennie has backed the same matchday squad, with the promotion of tighthead prop Taniela Tupou the only change in the starting 15.

Australia's entire backline is under scrutiny, with rookie halves Jake Gordon and Noah Lolesio under pressure after struggling at Lang Park.

In the absence of players who featured in the Top 14 final, France coach Fabien Galthie has included three debutants in his starting side, after naming seven uncapped players in his matchday 23 at Brisbane.

The fresh faces in Melbourne include a pair of new starting locks in Cyril Cazeaux and Pierre-Henri Azagoh, and Castres tighthead prop Wilfrid Hounkpatin.

After 14 days cooped up in hotel quarantine, France impressed with their strength and vigour in Brisbane and would have won but for an unfathomable failure to kick the ball out after the siren.

Galthie's side should be better for the run and confident they can level the series with another spirited effort against opponents struggling for confidence.

(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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