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Three-try hero Eva Karpani inspires Wallaroos win over France in WXV1

Eddie Jones wasn’t there to watch – as speculation continues over his role as overseer of the national rugby’s men’s and women’s sides – but the women’s rugby revolution in Australia hit an important high last night when the Wallaroos shocked France 29-20 in their WXV1 clash at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin.

Thumped 42-7 by England in the first round last Friday, the Australians shaped as cannon fodder for a France side that shocked tournament hosts New Zealand 18-17 in the first round. But right from the first whistle, they dominated their higher-ranked opponents, playing with depth and width and executing with polish and precision.

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The Wallaroos dominated the opening exchanges, unleashing an attack of sharp angles, inside balls and decoy runners to put France under immediate pressure. It yielded results in the third minute when No 13 Georgie Friedrichs touched twice then hit a brilliant line from Arabella McKenzie to break the line before backing up for an offload from halfback Layne Morgan that put frontrower Eva Karpani over the stripe.

Wallaroos coach Jay Tregonning had warned his players about the French flair for sparking points from transition ball. Sure enough, France counterattacked in the 14th minute from a loose clearance kick to put Emilie Boulard over in the left corner.

With scores level 7-7, France seized the momentum with Boulard’s speed and Marina Menager’s guile creating successive line-breaks. But brave defence from flanker Emily Chancellor, one-Test winger Desiree Miller and Friedrichs kept Les Bleus at bay.

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Eva Karpani crashes over for her third try in Australia’s 29-20 victory over France in the WXV1 match at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.Eva Karpani crashes over for her third try in Australia’s 29-20 victory over France in the WXV1 match at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin. Photograph: Hagen Hopkins/World Rugby/Getty Images

With veteran Ashley Marsters out injured, the 21-cap Chancellor was the Wallaroos most experienced player. She showed why in the 22nd minute with a try-saving tackle on French number eight Charlotte Escudero from which she won a crucial turnover. The 32-year-old Harlequins star then made a startling bust downfield setting her teammates up to build pressure through nine patient phases before Friedrichs left Alexandra Chambon for dead with a left-foot step to score Australia’s second try.

In the shadows of half-time, the French resistance kicked up a gear and they were mere metres away from equalising when a fierce front-on tackle by Tania Naden jolted the ball loose. Rattled, France opted for a penalty goal for 12-10 at the break.

Australia had all the field position after the resumption and when halfback Layne Morgan forced a turnover at the scrumbase, the gold forwards rumbled to life, working through 22 phases before Karpani crashed through three defenders one metre from the line to touch down for her second five-pointer to make it 19-10.

Having successfully shored up his side’s set piece since their England thrashing, Tregonning brought on his ‘bomb squad’ before the hour-mark. Leilani Nathan, 23, running on for her second Test cap and Adiana Talakai for her seventh. The fresh legs inspired three breakdown steals in three minutes (two to Chancellor, one to Morgan) to march the Wallaroos upfield.

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Karpani then made it a match to remember in the 70th minute when she iced a powerful rolling maul from the Wallaroos, picking and driving past two defenders to score her third try of the Test.

France whittled back the 19-point buffer with two late consolation tries but the Wallaroos were home, having notched one of the finest victories in their history. It is the first time Australia have beaten a side ranked in the world’s top three, and just the second time they have defeated France since 2010.

While proud of the greatest victory in his reign, Tregonning refused to call it an upset. “Not in our eyes. We were playing against a team above us in the ranking but we had a game plan. The biggest thing was working for each other. That was the focus. The dedication of the whole squad, how hard we trained, showed on the field tonight.”

In other round two results, England defeated Canada 45-12 on Friday in Wellington while New Zealand beat Wales 70-7 to atone for their first-round loss. Australia next play Wales on Friday night in Auckland.