France finally chased away the shadows of their calamitous defeat against Argentina in Paris with a nine-try demolition of gutsy Georgia in Marseilles.
The host nation's dubious reward is a quarter-final against New Zealand in Cardiff on Saturday. As for Georgia, they began yesterday's match as heroes – their government marked the victory over Namibia last Wednesday by announcing that 10 purpose-built stadiums would be built, in addition to the six they already have. Sadly, the Lelos finished as villains.
A spear-tackle on France's replacement flanker, Rémy Martin, in the 80th minute by Otar Eloshvili, Georgia's replacement full-back, after the Frenchman had been tackled by the fly-half Merab Kvirikashvili, left an unpleasant stain on an otherwise proud performance. Unfortunately the Irish referee, Alan Lewis, sent the wrong man to the sin-bin, showing a yellow card (Georgia's second of the match) to the mystified outside centre, Revaz Gigauri.
There will follow, presumably, appropriate punishment for the real culprit. But the incident was not only ugly but unnecessary, because by then France had passed the half-century. The tackle took away much from Georgia's brave performance in an entertaining match.
Bodies were put on the line, to the extent that the Georgia captain and scrum-half, Irakli Abuseridze, who had enjoyed a successful tussle or two with Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, left the field on a stretcher after just over half an hour of a thoroughly entertaining first half.
France entered the match needing victory and four tries to pick up a bonus point and secure second place in Pool D. The Georgians tackled themselves into the ground, leaving the French one try short by the interval. The French also lost their scrum-half, Pierre Mignoni, with a strained right hamstring. Still, prompted by the long, probing kicks of their fly-half, Lionel Beauxis, whose goal-kicking was also exceptional, they certainly asserted themselves territorially.
Georgia were a serious physical presence, most notably at the breakdown, their strength evident in the way they would ram into rucks. All that effort restricted France to tries through the full-back Clément Poitrenaud, the flanker Yannick Nyanga and Beauxis and the host nation had to work hard for all of them, even when Georgia were down to 14 men after the prop Mamuka Magrakvelidze was sent to the sin-bin for a trip.
Such a concerted defensive effort took its toll after the interval, when it was a different story – and a different Georgia. They were exhausted. The tackles were still going in but they were not as telling, nor as clinging. The French were sharper on the counter, faster thinking and more fleet of foot, none more so than the wing Christophe Dominici – an extremely popular figure here because of his affection for the Marseilles football team – who scored twice.
Sébastien Bruno, the Sale hooker, also got in on the act, as did the lock Lionel Nallet, right winger Aurélien Rougerie and No8 Julien Bonnaire. At least Georgia got onto the scoresheet, with a 76th minute try by Zviad Maisuradze which Malkhaz Urjukashvili converted.
Bernard Laporte, the France coach, said afterwards: "Mission accomplished. We needed to win with a bonus point and I am proud of the team. Sure there were faults in our performance, but we have a place in the quarter-finals."
France: C Poitrenaud (V Clerc, 77); A Rougerie, D Marty (D Skrela, 62), Y Jauzion, C Dominici; L Beauxis, P Mignoni (JB Elissalde, 22); O Milloud (Poux 80), S Bruno (D Szarzewski, 61), JB Poux (N Mas, 61), L Nallet, J Thion (F Pelous, 56), S Betsen (capt; R Martin, 68) Y Nyanga, J Bonnaire.
Georgia: O Barkalaia (O Eloshvili, 56); M Urjukashvili, R Gigauri, I Giorgadze, B Khamashuridze (G Elizbarashvili, 56); M Kvirikashvili, I Abuseridze (capt; B Samkharadze, 31); M Magrakvelidze (G Shvelidze, 51), A Giorgadze, D Zirakashvili, V Didebulidze (L Datunashvili, 40), Z Mtchedlishvili, I Maisuradze (Z Maisuradze,51), R Urushadze (G Shvelidze, 34-40), G Chkhaidze.
Referee: A Lewis (Ireland).