France claimed their first away win over Australia for 31 years as they secured a nail-biting 28-26 victory in the second Test at AAMI Park.

Les Bleus let victory slip through their grasp in a dramatic finish in the first game between the nations in Brisbane last week.

Despite controlling much of Wednesday's contest in Melbourne, France risked suffering a similar fate and losing the series when Michael Hooper crossed in the 71st minute and Noah Lolesio then gave Australia their first lead of the match with a 40-metre penalty in the 75th minute.

But there was a final twist in the tale as France gained a penalty in the scrum and Melvyn Jaminet split the uprights to take his tally to 23 points and give his side a first triumph against the Wallabies in Australia since June 30, 1990.

The boot of Jaminet and Damian Penaud's first-half try had France ahead 16-13 at the interval, with Jake Gordon keeping the Wallabies in touching distance by going over from close range in the 38th minute.

Lolesio levelled matters at 16-16 six minutes after the restart but Jaminet's accuracy from the tee gave France a seemingly commanding nine-point lead, the tourists dictating matters despite a bruising performance from Marika Koroibete.

Koroibete gained 181 metres for the Wallabies, but it was their captain who looked to have turned the tide, Hooper scoring for the third successive game for the first time in his Australia career. Lolesio converted from out wide and then knocked over a long-range penalty.

Yet France were not to be denied this time around, an immense effort in the scrum allowing Jaminet to set up a decider back at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday.

British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland is pleased to see so many players pushing for Test places after naming a much-changed team to face South Africa A.

The Lions have won all four warm-up matches so far ahead of the start of their three-match series with South Africa later this month, including back-to-back wins over the Sharks.

Gatland has made 12 alterations following the 71-31 victory over the Sharks on Saturday, with Anthony Watson, Chris Harris and Dan Biggar the only ones to be retained.

Watson moves from right wing to full-back and Harris will shift to outside centre to play alongside Bundee Aki, while Maro Itoje partners Iain Henderson in the second row after recovering from illness.

Wednesday's clash in Cape Town will be a proud occasion for tour captain Conor Murray, who will lead out the Lions for the first time.

Gatland has a number of big calls to make in terms of team selection for the opening game with world champions South Africa on July 24, with just two warm-up matches to go.

"We're pleased to have arrived in Cape Town as we near the halfway stage of the series," he said.

"Wednesday's game against South Africa A will be our toughest encounter since we arrived here and we're looking forward to it. 

"We expect them to be physical in the contact area and look to test us at scrum time.

"I think we've benefitted from playing at altitude in the first three games. While the boys have felt it in their lungs, they'll be all the better for it now we're at sea level.

"As we move towards the business end of the tour, it's pleasing to see so many players putting in some stand-out performances. 

"As coaches we want the players to make Test selection as hard as possible and that's what we're seeing."


Lions team to face South Africa A:

Anthony Watson, Louis Rees-Zammit, Chris Harris, Bundee Aki, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar, Conor Murray; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Iain Henderson, Josh Navidi, Tom Curry, Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Mako Vunipola, Zander Fagerson, Adam Beard, Tadhg Beirne, Sam Simmonds, Gareth Davies, Elliot Daly.

Dane Coles came off the bench to score four second-half tries as New Zealand beat Fiji 57-23 at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday.

The All Blacks dished out a record-equalling 102-0 rout of Tonga last weekend, but they only led Fiji by 10 points at the break – the smallest half-time advantage they have had against a non-Tier One country in a Test on home soil.

David Havili claimed a quickfire double following an opening try from Jordie Barrett, but Albert Tuisue went over for Fiji and two Ben Volavola penalties made it 21-11 at the break.

George Bridge increased New Zealand's lead when he overlapped down the left wing to touch down, but Mesulame Kunavula touched down to reduce the deficit as Fiji put up a great battle.

Coles crossed following a lineout after Fiji full-back Kini Murimurivalu was sin-binned but the Pacific Islanders responded superbly once again, earning a penalty try which also resulted in Havili being shown a yellow card.

Hooker Coles, who was only introduced 10 minutes into the second half, then took centre stage with an incredible cameo, crossing twice in the space of nine minutes to complete his treble.

Coles was on hand to add a fourth try for good measure with the Fiji forwards overpowered after Will Jordan went in the right corner to score on a night that saw prop Ethan de Groot made his All Blacks debut.

The four-try haul from Coles was the most by any forward from a Tier One country in a Test since the start of 2011.

The British and Irish Lions' clash with the Sharks is in doubt after a member of their management team tested positive for coronavirus, while South Africa's game with Georgia is off.

Warren Gatland's men are due to face the Sharks in the second match of their tour of South Africa on Wednesday.

However, four members of the touring party, including two players, are now isolating having been deemed to be close contacts of the individual who had the positive test result.

Kick-off has been pushed back to 20:00 local time (19:00 BST) pending the results of PCR tests for the rest of the touring party. The game will go ahead should those tests return negative results.

"We have followed all necessary precautions since the start of the tour, which included regular testing and rigorous COVID-19 counter measure planning and protocols," said Ben Calveley, managing director for the Lions.

"Our priority is to ensure the health and safety of the entire touring party, which is why we quickly isolated the players and staff upon receiving the news of the positive result.

"Everyone has subsequently been lateral flow and PCR tested. The Medical Advisory Group await the results of the PCR testing in order to make a decision on tonight's game.

"The five individuals affected will be monitored closely during isolation and receive the best possible medical attention as we await the results of their PCR tests."

The Springboks' second Test with Georgia was cancelled due to COVID outbreaks in both camps.

South Africa's playing and management group returned 12 positive tests this week, with Georgia returning four. 

Jurie Roux, CEO of South Africa Rugby, said: "In the context of the loss of life and economic damage that COVID and this third wave are wreaking, the cancellation of a rugby match is pretty trivial.

"But it is still a major disappointment for the many stakeholders who have invested so much time, energy and resources into making these matches happen.

"I especially feel for the fans and players, and for our visitors from Georgia who travelled here at relatively short notice to take on the series, which has now been cut short. We've not been able to interact with them because of the bio-secure environments, but I'd like to thank them publicly for their support.

"We continue to plan for the Springboks' re-emergence from isolation and the completion of the Test series but in the short term we wish a speedy recovery for those who have been infected."

The Lions' clash with the Bulls on Saturday is already off and, while they are scheduled to face South Africa 'A' next Wednesday, the remainder of the tour now looks to be in question.

France suffered a heartbreaking late 23-21 defeat to the Wallabies in the first Test as their 32-year wait for an away win over Australia goes on.

Les Bleus travelled to Suncorp Stadium knowing history was against them, France's last away win over Australia having come 11,330 days ago on June 30, 1990.

But a pair of tries from Gabin Villiere put France in command, with Australia unable to respond until Brandon Paenga-Amosa went over in the 34th minute to make it a 15-7 half-time deficit.

Noah Lolesio reduced the gap to five points from the tee and his second penalty sandwiched three-pointers from Louis Carbonel and Melvyn Jaminet to keep the Wallabies in touch.

Australia captain Michael Hooper backed over the line nine minutes from time and Lolesio knocked over a simple conversion to fray France nerves as they were left to nurse a one-point advantage.

Lolesio had the chance to be the hero in the 77th minute but his drop goal drifted wide of the right-hand upright.

It looked as if Australia's chance had gone but France inexplicably failed to get the ball out of play from a lineout with the clock in the red, conceding possession and allowing Australia to earn a decisive penalty that Lolesio converted from in front of the posts.

South Africa have recorded a further 10 COVID-19 cases, including head coach Jacques Nienaber, while the British and Irish Lions' match with the Bulls has been postponed.

A Lions statement on Tuesday confirmed they were exploring a rescheduling of the match or finding different opponents after five positive tests meant it was "impossible" for the Bulls to field a team.

The Lions' meeting with the Sharks in Johannesburg next Wednesday is set to go ahead as scheduled.

However, the Springboks' match with Georgia next week is also in doubt after Nienaber, five management figures and four players - Marvin Orie, Frans Steyn, Handre Pollard and Frans Malherbe - all returned positive tests.

There were also four cases of the virus within the Georgia team. Jurie Roux, CEO of South Africa Rugby, said the news underlined the problems posed by the Delta variant of the virus, which was first identified in India but has since spread to numerous countries.

"These positive results are a setback and have underlined the danger of transmissibility of the Delta variant," he said.

"The Springboks' second Test against Georgia is now in serious doubt, but we will wait for the MAG to consider the data and we will make the final decision tomorrow [Wednesday].

"The priority is to maintain the integrity of the Test series and we will continue to focus on that."

On Monday, South Africa suspended training and placed their squad in isolation after lock Lood de Jager tested positive for coronavirus.

There had been three further confirmed cases of the virus within the squad on June 27, although they were still able to go ahead with their first warm-up match against Georgia, which ended in a 40-9 victory for the Boks.

It was their first match since winning the World Cup in November 2019.

The first Test with the Lions is due to take place on July 24 in Cape Town, before moving to Johannesburg for the second and third matches.

South Africa suspended training on Monday and again placed their entire squad in isolation after lock Lood de Jager tested positive for coronavirus.

It is the second time the Springboks have been forced to take preventative measures ahead of their upcoming series with the British and Irish Lions.

Vincent Koch, Herschel Jantjies and Sbu Nkosi tested positive for COVID-19 on June 27, though the world champions resumed training and their first warm-up match – a 40-9 victory over Georgia – went ahead as planned last Friday.

However, this Friday's game against the same opponents is now in jeopardy following another positive case, which also raises further questions about the three-match Test series with the Lions.

A statement from SA Rugby on Monday read: "Springbok training has been suspended for Monday following a positive test for COVID-19 in the squad.

"The players have been placed in preventative isolation prior to further PCR testing and a review of the testing data by the Medical Advisory Group (MAG).

"Lood de Jager returned a positive outcome in scheduled testing and, because of his close contact with a number of squad members, the entire group has gone into isolation.

"An update will be issued following the review by the MAG and the further testing."

South Africa's victory over Georgia was their first match since winning the World Cup in November 2019.

Their first Test with the Lions is due to take place on July 24 in Cape Town, before moving to Johannesburg for the second and third matches.

Jake Gordon will return from a knee injury scare to start for the Wallabies against France in the first Test in Brisbane on Wednesday. 

The Waratahs captain is set to line up alongside Noah Lolesio in the halves with Nic White and James O'Connor ruled out due to injury. 

Few would have predicted Gordon would don the Australia number nine jersey so soon after he left late in a defeat to the Highlanders last month with what was initially feared to be an anterior cruciate ligament injury. 

Yet he was able to make a quick recovery after scans revealed only minor damage to his medial collateral ligament, opening the door for his first Wallabies start since his debut against Italy back in 2018.

Up front, Lolesio's Brumbies team-mates James Slipper and Allan Alaalatoa are the starting props and Brandon Paenga-Amosa was named at hooker by head coach Dave Rennie.

Matt Philip and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto are in the second row, with Rob Valetini to make his first start for the Wallabies at blindside flanker, captain Michael Hooper in the number seven shirt and Harry Wilson at number eight.

Veteran Matt Toomua is at number 12 alongside Hunter Paisami.

The back three features Marika Koroibete and the Brumbies pairing of Tom Wright and Tom Banks.

"The whole squad has been training really hard over the past three weeks to prepare for what’s going to be an exciting, tough series against the French," Rennie said.

"We’ve always selected a side based on earning the right to wear the jersey and this team is no different.

"The whole group is excited to be back playing Test rugby in front of our families and supporters and we’re looking to start the year with a positive result at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday night.”

Australia have won their past 11 at home against France dating back to a 1990 loss in Brisbane.


Australia: Tom Banks Tom Wright, Hunter Paisami, Matt Toomua, Marika Koroibete, Noah Lolesio, Jake Gordon; James Slipper, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Allan Alaalatoa, Matt Philip, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Rob Valenti, Michael Hooper, Harry Wilson.

Replacements: Lachlan Lonergan, Angus Bell, Taniela Tupou, Darcy Swain, Isi Naisarani, Tate McDermott, Len Ikitau, Andrew Kellaway.

South Africa marked their return to Test action with a commanding 40-9 victory over Georgia at Loftus Versfeld Stadium on Friday.

The Springboks had not competed since winning the Rugby World Cup in November 2019 due to the coronavirus pandemic and initially took time to get going in Pretoria.

But the hosts slowly loosened up on and crossed over six times to make a positive start to preparations for their upcoming three-match Test series with the British and Irish Lions

Aphelele Fassi was one of two players making their debut for the Boks, along with Rosko Specman, and he marked the occasion with the first try inside the opening five minutes from his very first touch.

Georgia had already got on the board by that point through Tedo Abzhandadze's penalty, and the fly-half kicked over twice more before South Africa next registered.

Following a sustained spell of pressure, Bongi Mbonambi went over from the maul to give the home team a platform to build on and they did not look back.

The world champions made the most of their man advantage after Beka Saghinadze was sin-binned as Cobus Reinach gathered a Fassi kick and raced through before half-time.

South Africa had more of a cutting edge to them in the second half, with Kwagga Smith picking up from the base to cross over and Herschel Jantjies doing likewise five minutes later thanks to some smart play from Handre Pollard.

Malcolm Marx was next to dot down following a powerful rolling maul as Jacques Nienaber's side moved through the gears.

The Springboks passed up a couple of promising situations in the remaining 10 minutes, but the damage had already been done as they claimed victory in the first of their two Tests with Georgia ahead of facing the Lions on July 24.

The British and Irish Lions will repeat a feat last achieved back in 1959 if they avoid a series defeat in South Africa.

Warren Gatland's side drew with New Zealand four years ago after a 2-1 triumph in Australia in 2013.

It is 62 years since the Lions were able to avoid defeat in a third consecutive tour and they will have to face the world champions without Alun Wyn Jones, who was replaced as captain by Conor Murray after he suffered a dislocated shoulder in the win over Japan.

Confirmation on Sunday that three members of the Springboks squad have tested positive for coronavirus was a concern before the Lions boarded the plane to South Africa.

They are due to play five tour matches before the first Test against the Springboks at Cape Town Stadium on July 24.

Stats Perform picks out some of the standout Opta numbers for such an eagerly-awaited tour.

 

BOKS TO GO BACK-TO-BACK?

South Africa were 2-1 winners the last time the Lions toured in 2009, but they have not won back-to-back series since coming out on top in 1962 and 1968.

The Springboks have won eight, lost four and tied one of their previous series against the Lions.

South Africa can boast 23 victories to the Lions' 17, with six of the 46 previous showdowns ending in a draw.

There have been alternate winners in the past five series between the Lions and South Africa, a sequence the Lions will be hoping continues.

 

SOUTH-AFRICA-BORN FLYER AMONG DEADLY DEBUTANTS

While the loss of Jones and Justin Tipuric to injury in the win over Japan at Murrayfield were big blows, Gatland will have been encouraged by the performances of his debutants.

Three of the four try-scorers in Edinburgh were making their Lions bows, with Josh Adams, Duhan Van Der Merwe and Tadhg Beirne crossing.

South-Africa born Scotland wing Van der Merwe was the leading try-scorer in the Six Nations this year with six and beat 31 defenders in the tournament, breaking a record set by Brian O'Driscoll.

He can make a big impact against his country of birth along with Adams, the leading try-scorer at the 2019 World Cup with seven.

South Africa must also be wary of Louis Rees-Zammit, the youngest tourist aged 20, after he scored four Six Nations tries and had the most clean breaks (nine) in the competition, also gaining the most metres per carry (9.9m from 27 carries).

Beirne caught the eye against Japan and can play a big part in South Africa. He affected the most turnovers in the Six Nations with nine and was the first man to 87 rucks - the same number as Gregory Alldritt.

 

PASS MASTER MURRAY CAN DICTATE

Murray was surprised to be given the honour of skippering the Lions in the absence of the most-capped player in the history of international rugby.

The Ireland scrum-half has vast experience and can lead by example in his third Lions tour.

Murray has won two, lost two and drawn one of his previous Lions Tests and will look to pull the strings for the tourists.

The 32-year-old pivot has assisted 25 Six Nations tries, eight more than any other player, and holds the record for the most passes in the competition with 3,527. Peter Stringer is next on the list with 2,539.

 

KEY MEN CAN ROAR AGAIN

There were some outstanding performances in the Lions' tour of New Zealand as they drew 1-1 with the All Blacks.

Maro Itoje was among the heroes of that tour and the England lock will embrace the battle with the Springboks. He hit more rucks (162) than any other player in the Six Nations this year and amassed 16 turnovers.

Versatile back Liam Williams made the most metres by a Lions player on the tour in New Zealand four years ago with 344 from six games.

Gatland has been able to rely on Taulupe Faletau time and again over the years. The back-row made the most tackles (76) in New Zealand and beat more defenders (14) than any other forward.

It is nothing new for there to be uncertainty over what to expect for a British and Irish Lions touring party but the class of 2021 are well and truly stepping into the unknown.

Typically all the talk is over selection. Who starts at number 10? What will the make-up of the pack be, who gets the nod as the centre pairing or which wingers will be unleashed in the first Test?

Of course those questions are still to be answered, but when the Lions arrived in Johannesburg on Monday they were not only facing the challenge of trying to secure a starting berth.

A big surge in coronavirus cases has seen South Africa move into a 'level four' lockdown, with travel restrictions, an alcohol ban and an overnight curfew.

As the Lions were preparing to fly out on Sunday, it emerged that Springboks trio Herschel Jantjies, Vincent Koch and Sbu Nkosi had tested positive for COVID-19 - forcing training to be cancelled and the squad going into isolation.

They have since been given the green light to train and are set to face Georgia at Loftus Versfeld Stadium on Friday in their first Test since beating England in the 2019 World Cup final.

A lot of water has gone under the bridge since the drinks flowed as South Africa celebrated lifting the Webb Ellis Cup in Japan and they have a new head coach in Jacques Nienaber.

The world champions have also faced uncertainty, with the possibility of the Lions having home advantage or the series being staged in a neutral country before it was confirmed South Africa will host the tour.

While South Africa know they will not be entering the Lions den, Warren Gatland and his touring party are not certain where they might be heading just under a month before the first Test in Cape Town on July 24.

 

They are set to face a namesake in the Johannesburg-based Lions side, twice runners-up in Super Rugby, on Saturday as one the first of five matches in Gauteng but it is reported they could make further changes to the schedule.

The COVID situation has led to suggestions the entire three-match Test series could be played in Cape Town, with alternations to the fixtures having already been made last month.

Hostile crowds usually await the Lions, but they are set to face the might of the Springboks behind closed doors without an army of travelling fans to roar them on.

They must also go into battle without inspirational leader Alun Wyn Jones, ruled out due to a dislocated shoulder in the win over Japan at Murrayfield along with Wales team-mate Justin Tipuric.

A strong camaraderie will be needed more than ever, with Conor Murray promoted to skipper the side in the absence of stalwart Jones.

But there will be a lack of nights out as they are restricted to bonding in the bubble.

Gatland's men drew 1-1 with then-world champions New Zealand four years ago and can make it three series without defeat next month - a streak that has not been achieved since 1959.

They have the same head coach and key men who starred against the All Blacks, combined with exciting new faces such as South Africa-born wing Duhan van der Merwe and Louis Rees-Zammit.

Gatland may be unsure what challenges the Lions will face on and off the field before the opening Test but the wily New Zealander knows will know what to expect from a formidable South Africa side.

South Africa Rugby has announced the entire Springboks squad is self-isolating after three players tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of the Test series against the British and Irish Lions.

Following the discovery of the trio of cases during PCR testing in Johannesburg, the reigning world champions announced the cancellation of a planned training session on Sunday.

Team management will consult with medical experts before deciding what steps to take next, with the isolation of players and staff coming just as the Lions prepare to fly out from Edinburgh.

"The Springboks cancelled Sunday's planned training session in Johannesburg as a precautionary measure when scheduled testing protocols returned three positive COVID-19 test results when the team assembled on Saturday," a statement read.

"Three players tested positive for the virus following stringent real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing procedures on arrival at the team base.

"Team management immediately put the squad into self-isolation as a precaution until specialist medical advice is sought from the medical advisory group (MAG).

"A decision on further team activities will be made shortly.

"Director of rugby Rassie Erasmus emphasised that the team had followed all the necessary precautions since the start of the three-week conditioning camp hosted in Bloemfontein, which included mandatory COVID-19 testing three times a week, and that they would be led by specialist advice before any action is taken."

 

The Lions have had problems to deal with before departing for South Africa, captain Alun Wyn Jones suffering a dislocated shoulder during the warm-up win over Japan on Saturday that will see him miss the entire trip.

Fellow Wales international Justin Tipuric is another to be ruled out following the 28-10 victory at Murrayfield, with head coach Warren Gatland calling up Adam Beard and Josh Navidi as replacements.

Conor Murray, meanwhile, is to take over the captaincy duties in the absence of Jones, who was set to lead the squad on his fourth tour with the Lions.

The three-match Test series against the Springboks begins at Cape Town Stadium on July 24.

Conor Murray has spoken of his surprise at being named British and Irish Lions captain after Alun Wyn Jones was ruled out of the tour of South Africa.

Jones suffered a dislocated shoulder early in the Lions' win over Japan on Saturday, while Justin Tipuric also misses the tour due to a shoulder injury sustained at Murrayfield.

Warren Gatland turned to Ireland scrum-half Murray to take over as skipper, with Adam Beard and Josh Navidi called up as replacements for their Wales team-mates Jones and Tipuric.

Murray was not expecting to be asked to lead the Lions in what will be his third tour.

Asked if he was surprised Gatland wanted him to step up, the pivot said: "A little bit to be honest.

"I didn't even think about it. I knew that Al was out and then you look around the squad and there are so many contenders.

"Warren asked me just before the cap ceremony and it was surreal. I still don't have my head around it, but it's an unbelievable honour. It's something that I never thought would be possible.

"I didn't think about it long. I said, 'absolutely, it'll be a massive honour. Thank you very much for this opportunity'.

"Then you kind of think about how big it is and then obviously my phone has gone a bit crazy since it was announced.

"I tried to call my girlfriend Joanna, but her phone was on one per cent as usual. Her phone was off and my dad is in Edinburgh, he was out with his friends having a few drinks, and so he was the first person I spoke to.

"My mum's in Kerry and I rang her. She's down with a few friends who were watching the Japan game and they're celebrating too, so it still hasn't sunk in to be honest."

 

Murray said the loss of Jones is a big blow for the Lions.

"We're very disappointed to lose Alun Wyn. He's been brilliant for the first two weeks. I've known him from the past two tours and he's been incredible. It's a huge loss,” Murray said.

"He came up to me and said 'congrats and just be yourself' and I think that's really important. Growing up, you probably thought you had to try and be a certain type of person to be a leader, but you just have to be yourself.

"Once you have the respect of the group around you, that's a massive plus, a massive thing that can calm you down a bit. If you have the respect of the lads and you do what you do and you do it honestly, then it should be fine.

"It's a huge honour, but there's such a good group of leaders in this squad that makes it less daunting, definitely. There are lads that you can lean on, lads who have captained their country.

"There's massive experience there so you know it'll definitely be a group thing. I'm going to enjoy it and again lean on those boys. It'll take a bit of getting used to, but it's such an honour."

Conor Murray has been named as the British and Irish Lions captain for the upcoming tour of South Africa after injury ruled out Alun Wyn Jones.

Jones was ruled out of the tour, along with Justin Tipuric, on Saturday after he sustained a shoulder injury in the Lions' 28-10 win over Japan.

Irish scrum-half Murray, 32, has been handed the captaincy, with Lions head coach Warren Gatland bullish about his capability in Jones' absence.

"We’re all incredibly disappointed for Alun Wyn and Justin," Gatland said. "The timing of these injuries seem particularly cruel given we fly to South Africa tomorrow [Sunday], but unfortunately they’re part of the game.

"Alun Wyn will obviously be a big loss, both on and off the field, but will be ably replaced by Conor.

"Conor is an outstanding rugby player and is held in the highest regard with both the players and coaches.

"As a three-time Lions tourist, he knows what will be required as captain and I am certain he will lead the squad with excellence. He will also be well supported by an experienced leadership group."

Adam Beard and Josh Navidi have been added to the Lions squad to replace Jones and Tipuric.

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