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France too strong for Australia in its final warmup match before hosting Rugby World Cup

SAINT-DENIS, France (AP) — France is ready for the Rugby World Cup.

Damian Penaud scored two tries as the French delivered an enthralling attacking display to beat Australia 41-17 on Sunday in their last warmup match before the tournament.

Australia trailed 16-5 at halftime despite having the majority of territory, but a lack of kicking precision damaged their chances. France was stronger in the second half and capitalized on a numerical advantage following a yellow card for Wallabies winger Suliasi Vunivalu.

France scored four tries and conceded three. Australia's young flyhalf Carter Gordon converted just one try and missed two penalties.

France will start its World Cup campaign on Sept. 8 at Stade de France against a New Zealand lineup coming off a record 35-7 loss to defending champion South Africa at Twickenham.

“Now it's time for the competition, we need to improve on every level,” France coach Fabien Galthie said. “We have work to do.”

Not as much as Australia, which opens its tournament against Georgia on Sept. 9.

Australia coach Eddie Jones said his squad “has a greater aim than this game.”

“In terms of what we want to do for the World Cup, particularly our first game, we probably did a lot of good things but we’ve got to get better at converting territory into points," Jones said. "We had 63% of territory in the first half and behind 16-5 at halftime. So a good team, that doesn’t happen to. We’re not a bad team, but we’re not a good team yet.

“We’re going through the process of becoming a good team. So we’ve just got to keep believing, keep working hard, and it’ll come.”

Australia had a first opportunity to take the lead after Antoine Dupont conceded a penalty for offside but, in windy conditions, Gordon kicked it wide.

The Wallabies then attacked into the French quarter but the move was stopped short when Rob Valetini conceded a penalty.

The French made the most of their first attacking possession following an acceleration from Penaud, who offloaded for Gabin Villiere. Taniela Tupou illegally stopped the winger and Dupont set up Jonathan Danty on the left from the resulting penalty.

Australia responded in the 13th minute through Mark Nawaqanitawase, who scored in the corner.

France then extended its lead with Thomas Ramos landing two penalty goals within four minutes and adding another in the 35th.

In the meantime, Australia won a scrum penalty but Gordon again misfired. The visitors went close to scoring another try just before the interval but were denied by some desperate defense.

France sent on an entirely new tight five in the 47th minute in a bid to gain some traction and momentum swung in favor of the home team when Vunivalu was sin-binned for a professional foul four minutes later.

Ramos kicked his fourth penalty before Penaud extended France's lead to 26-5 with a try created by Dupont.

The Wallabies hit back with backrower Fraser McReight crossing in the 62nd minute.

“We have two or three things to look at, notably when it comes to defending,” Danty said. “We concede tries too easily.”

France's response was immediate, however. The superb attacking move finished with a try as Villiere connected with a brilliant cross kick from Jalibert. Penaud then added his second try with a clever chip-and-chase kick, before Vunivalu touched down late for Australia.

Dupont led the side well and knows the expectation level will be high by the time the All Blacks arrive at Stade de France.

“Everyone is aware of the event, we all want to do something big,” he said. “We have a few days to rest before coming back with lots of motivation.”

France has reached the Rugby World Cup final three times, in 1987, '99 and 2011, but has never won the title.

Australia was the first country to win two Rugby World Cup titles, in 1991 and '99, but has lost in the final twice since then — including when Jones was in his first stint in charge in 2003 — and has slid down the world rankings after years of underachieving.

The loss to France was Australia's fifth in a row since Jones replaced Dave Rennie as head coach for this season.

“Within the camp, we've got a fair bit of confidence,” Jones said, adding that he still had time to work with a young, inexperienced squad. “We've destabilized the team. Taken away all the leadership that was there previously. We have new leadership in place. We're trying to play a different way. And the results haven't been good — I'm not hiding away from that. But we do have a longer-term plan in terms of the World Cup and that's what we're here for.”

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AP rugby: https://apnews.com/hub/rugby