BORDEAUX, France (AP) — Flyhalf Matthieu Jalibert's first international try and two each from winger Damian Penaud and hooker Peato Mauvaka helped a disjointed France beat a tenacious Georgia 41-15 on Sunday.
Salome Zourabichvili, Georgia's first woman president, was among the crowd at Bordeaux’s Matmut Atlantique stadium and she took a photo as her nation leveled a competitive opening period to make it 3-3.
Lock Grigor Kerdikoshvili, flanker Giorgi Tsutskiridze and No. 8 Beka Gorgadze returned from injuries to strengthen Georgia.
Georgia wants to take part in the Six Nations — with some observers saying it should replace Italy —and the Lelos showed great commitment throughout.
“We were expecting a tough opponent," France coach Fabien Galthie said. “Especially in the phases of combat.”
By halftime it was 24-3 but Georgia scrumhalf Vasil Lobzhanidze's converted try within 10 minutes of the restart made it 24-10 — and woke France up.
Just like last week against Argentina, the lively Mauvaka came off the bench to bundle over and fullback Melvyn Jaminet converted from wide right. Mauvaka replaced Julien Marchand, who went off with a rib injury.
Georgia kept believing and a finely worked move from left to right put winger Aka Tabutsadze through and he dived over to ground the ball one-handed for an unconverted try.
France faces New Zealand at Stade de France next Saturday. The All Blacks will be fired up after losing 29-20 to inspired Ireland on Saturday.
Galthie made five changes from the side that beat Argentina 29-20. He kept Romain Ntamack at inside center alongside flyhalf Jalibert, despite Ntamack's poor performance against Argentina and he repaid Galthie with a pass for Jalibert's try.
After Jaminet's early penalty, Georgia flyhalf Tedo Abzhandadze was yellow carded for a deliberate knock on.
Yet Georgia surprisingly leveled with a player less, as 19-year-old fullback Davit Niniashvili — one of several Georgia players in France's elite Top 14 league — slotted over for 3-3 with Zourabichvili capturing the moment.
It was a momentary lead as France was awarded a penalty try when Georgia deliberately collapsed a scrum.
Flanker Beka Saghinadze was sinbinned to leave the Lelos briefly at 13 and then 14 when Abzhandadze returned.
Georgia's defense superbly stopped flanker Sekou Macalou near the right corner, but from the lineout Ntamack flipped the ball inside to send a jubilant Jalibert under the posts at his home stadium.
Jaminet popped over the extras for 17-3, and the next try was not long in coming. Veteran center Gael Fickou passed inside to give galloping winger Penaud one of the easiest of his tries.
Georgia is coached by Levan Maisashvili, who last July was induced into a coma in a Johannesburg hospital with COVID-19. In a previous interview with The Daily Telegraph, he said his family was told he had a 2% chance of survival.
His halftime talk worked and, early into the second half, No. 8 Beka Gorgadze almost got over the line but was held up by Macalou and scrumhalf Antoine Dupont.
Lobzhanidze then rewarded his team for a strong phase of play as he darted inside for a try converted by Abzhandadze in the 48th.
After Mauvaka's try three minutes later, Galthie moved Jalibert to fullback and Ntamack to flyhalf, where he made his name at the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Penaud's second try, after France opted not to kick a penalty, and a massive push from the scrum to get Mauvaka over the line, added some late gloss.
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