Melvyn Jaminet nailed seven penalties as a beefed-up France stunned the Wallabies 28-26 to post their first win on Australian soil in more than 30 years Tuesday and keep the three-Test series alive.
Fabien Galthie's depleted but resolute Les Bleus, boasting a new heavyweight pack, stamped their mark on the game early and went to the break with a 16-13 lead.
Despite a fightback from Australia, they clung on at Melbourne's AAMI Park to clock their first victory Down Under since 1990 in Sydney, when they came out 28-19.
It was a battling effort from the French, who were stung by a painful last-gasp 23-21 defeat in the opening Test at Brisbane, with defeat piling pressure on Australian coach Dave Rennie ahead of the decider in just four days' time.
Rennie had demanded his team cut out the mistakes that marred their game last week, but their breakdown work was substandard and they gave away too many penalties.
Jaminet drilled seven, including the winner three minutes from time, plus a conversion to go with Damian Penaud's try.
Jake Gordon and Michael Hooper both crossed for Australia and Noah Lolesio slotted four penalties, but it was not enough.
"I don't have the words but I'm really proud of what we have done tonight," said France skipper Anthony Jelonch. "We managed to do what we didn't do last week. That was a very strong Australian team that we fought against tonight and we are proud of what we have done."
Galthie said it was reward for their persistence and belief.
"We feel we have solid foundations, the skills of the players, a team that is ready to fight whatever the scenario," he said of his young squad missing a host of regulars. "The players are determined."
- Powerhouse pack -
With three Tests in 11 days and after spending 14 days in quarantine, Galthie reshuffled his forwards, with giant Castres prop Wilfrid Hounkpatin and Stade Francais lock Pierre-Henri Azagoh winning their first caps.
They were joined by Cameron Woki and Ibrahim Diallo in the back row with Bordeaux-Begles lock Cyril Cazeaux also called up to form a new second-row combination with Azagoh, a powerhouse pack that caused problems.
"We wanted a fast start tonight but we were denied that by the French," said Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper. "They were really all over our breakdown throughout the majority of the game.
"They played a really good French game tonight, taking points, building pressure."
France opened the scoring, with Jaminet drilling a long-range penalty on two minutes after Rob Valetini missed a simple clean out.
It fired up the Wallabies who thought they had the opening try when star winger Marika Koroibete weaved through the splintered defence in an electric run.
But a replay showed a knock on and it was disallowed, with Jaminet rubbing salt in their wounds to move France 6-0 in front.
Australia were dangerous on the attack and Koroibete was denied again, this time by a forward pass, but they were playing advantage and Lolesio got them off the mark when they came back for a simple penalty kick.
France stormed back, turning over the ball then spreading it wide for Penaud to exchange passes with Azagoh before dotting down.
Lolesio and Jaminet traded penalties for 16-6 before Australia finally got their breakthrough with big prop Taniela Tupou plucking the ball from a ruck and spinning it wide to Gordon for a straightforward try.
Lolesio added the extras to take them to the break 16-13 behind, then drilled another penalty after the restart to level the scores.
But Jaminet was his equal with three more pinpoint kicks.
With 10 minutes left, Hooper set up a tense finish after diving over in the left corner, and when Lolesio converted a pressure penalty with five minutes left, Australia thought they'd done enough for a 26-25 win.
But France earned a scrum penalty with three minutes on the clock, and hero Jaminet made no mistake.