With the scores locked at 30-30 in the closing stages of an evenly fought Test, Australian flyhalf Noah Lolesio kicked a crucial penalty to put the Wallabies ahead with two minutes remaining.
The win came against the odds after the Wallabies lost winger Marika Koroibete to a controversial red card following a high tackle on French captain Anthony Jelonch in the fifth minute.
Koroibete charged through following a kick and smashed Jelonch with a big tackle, but after watching a number of replays referee Ben O’Keeffe agreed with the television match official that the Australian winger’s shoulder had made contact with Jelonche’s head, and he was shown the red card.
Australian coach Dave Rennie said he did not think the card was warranted and hinted that the French captain had milked the penalty.
“On the angles we saw initially, we thought it was shoulder contact first,” Rennie said.
“They have to make their call based on images they’re seeing and Ben is an excellent referee.
“There were a couple of situations where our guys got clocked in the head but they didn’t stay down.
“They got up and got on with it — maybe that’s the difference.”
Unsurprisingly, Jelonch had a different opinion, but said the red card may have helped the Wallabies.
“The red card was logical. I don’t think there is any dispute,” Jelonch said. “(But) it maybe galvanised them afterwards.”
The two sides could barely be separated over the series, both scoring 49 points apiece heading into the decider.
Australia had won the first Test 23-21, with France, who left many of their first choice players at home, claiming the second 28-26.
And that closeness was highlighted when they went into the break locked at 20-20 after a pulsating first 40 minutes.
In a see-sawing match the lead changed throughout, with the game only decided in the 80th minute when Australian lock Darcy Swain managed to disrupt a French rolling maul inside the Wallaby 22, sparking massive celebrations from the 37,000 fans at Suncorp Stadium.
“I thought we got better as the series went on,” Rennie said.
“We showed a lot of steel tonight — I’m really pleased.”
The Wallabies got off to a disastrous start when they lost recalled winger Filipo Daugunu in the first minute with what appeared to be a broken wrist.
Moments later they were behind 3-0 thanks to a Melvyn Jaminet penalty from right in front after a Wallaby infringement in the breakdown.
It got worse for the home side when Koroibete was sent off, the visitors taking immediate advantage when scrumhalf Baptiste Couilloud crossed out wide, crashing over the top of opposite number Tate McDermott. Jaminet converted from the sideline to make it 10-0.
But only three minutes later it was McDermott’s turn to score when a perfect cutout pass from Lolesio put Michael Hooper through a hole and he found McDermott in support.
Lolesio converted to make 10-7, but that soon became 13-7 with another Jaminet penalty.
The home side finally hit the lead in the 20th minute when Lolesio intercepted a French pass and crossed untouched beside the posts to make it 14-13.
A Lolesio penalty from right in front gave the Wallabies a 17-13 lead after 26 minutes.
That lead lasted 10 minutes, French flanker Cameron Woki touching down after going over the top of a goal line ruck and using his long arms to touch the ball down beside the posts to make it 20-17.
But right on halftime Lolesio kicked his second penalty to square it up at the break.
A superb length of the field try to outside centre Pierre-Louis Barassi six minutes after the restart put the French out to 27-20, a lead that lasted just five minutes when replacement Wallaby tighthead prop Taniela Tupou crashed under the posts.
A penalty apiece made it 30-30, but the French collapsed a scrum 30 metres out giving Lolesio the chance to put the Wallabies ahead, and he made no mistake.