Noah Lolesio nailed a last-gasp penalty as Australia clawed back a 15-point deficit to edge an under-strength France 23-21 Wednesday and win a physical opening Test of the three-match series.
A polished Les Bleus looked headed for their first win on Australian soil in more than 30 years, only for victory to be cruelly snatched away at the death.
Winger Gabin Villiere scored two tries for France with Brandon Paenga-Amosa and Michael Hooper crossing for Australia.
But after an erratic 2020 in which they won just one from six, Dave Rennie's Wallabies were again less than convincing against a French team missing key players and who had just come out of 14 days of quarantine.
Australia dropped too much ball and missed too many tackles early on to fall 15-0 down before a late try sent them to the half-time break seven points adrift.
France held on in the second half and seemed destined for a 21-20 win when they secured possession from a lineout with the 80-minute hooter having sounded.
But instead of clearing into touch for victory, debutant Melvyn Jaminet threw a loose pass that gave Australia possession in the France 22 for one last push, which culminated in the late penalty award.
"I'm proud of our guys," said Wallabies skipper Hooper, who was playing his 106th Test.
"We found a way to win. I didn't have to say much. We prepared for some of that stuff. Little areas, little bits of fight that kept us in the game."
While encouraged by the fight his team showed, he added: "There was a lot of opportunities that we missed."
- 'That's footy for you' -
Match-winner Lolesio, who had fluffed a drop-kick attempt four minutes from time, was lost for words.
"That's Test footy for you. I'm so proud of myself -- far out, man. I'm happy," he said.
Defeat compounded France's poor run on Australian soil, where they have not beaten the Wallabies since 1990.
Earning a win was always going to be tough for Fabien Galthie's side after their build-up was hampered by going through quarantine, only emerging on the eve of the Test.
They were also without a host of regulars, including those from Top 14 finalists Toulouse and La Rochelle.
Nevertheless, the young cohort, including six uncapped players in the 23 and only two with 20 plus caps, showed plenty of flair.
"We are very disappointed, but we will raise our heads and I can promise you that we will be ready on Tuesday," said captain Anthony Jelonch, looking ahead to the second Test in Melbourne next week.
"I'm proud of the team I had by my side. We will be ready on Tuesday to put up as much fight as tonight, because the team is hungry for these matches."
Played in front of nearly 18,000 fans at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium, they made a perfect start with a statement try after five minutes on the back of a turnover, with Villiere finishing off by piercing the defence.
Louis Carbonel sent a straightforward conversion wide but made amends by slotting a tough penalty after Wallabies number eight Harry Wilson was penalised at the breakdown for an 8-0 lead midway through the half.
They stretched their advantage when Villiere found a gaping hole in the defence after a beautiful offload from Jonathan Danty, with Carbonel adding the extras.
France were far more polished, but the hosts hauled themselves back seven minutes before the break after a lineout set-piece saw Paenga-Amosa flop over after a powerful drive to take them to the break 15-7 behind.
They returned with greater energy but Carbonel and Lolesio exchanged two penalties apiece as France maintained their eight-point cushion at 21-13.
The Wallabies mounted a sustained period of sustained pressure close to the French line and Hooper profited when he backed over from a ruck to score.
Lolesio converted to leave the Wallabies just one point adrift with 10 minutes to play and set-up a nailbiting finale.