Australia then followed suit, with John Peers and Jordan Thompson seeing off Belgium's Rubens Bemelmans and Arthur de Greef in Brussels to also move 2-1 ahead.
Playing with the French Davis Cup team for the first time this season, Tsonga made a successful return in the team competition and won 7-6 (2), 6-3, 6-3.
'It was surprising. Davis Cup doubles you usually see marathon five-setters, ' Thompson said.
"I will never forget it".
Mahut, who has been hampered by a calf injury in recent weeks, thanked the medical staff for enabling him to play.
"They did not count their hours to put me back on my feet", he said.
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That Yannick Noah's host has yet to book its place in the final is down to Dusan Lajovic's shock win in Friday's opening rubber against Lucas Pouille, although Jo-Wilfried Tsonga had levelled the tie by beating Laslo Djere. 'This victory is also theirs'.
"We had a job to do today and we came out and did it from start to finish". "That was our goal and we did it for the team".
One more victory for both will set up a repeat of the 2001 final when France last claimed the title with a 3-2 success over Australia who themselves have not won the trophy since captain Leyton Hewitt was part of a 3-1 win over Spain in 2003.
Nick Kyrgios can wrap up the tie for Australia on Sunday when he takes on fellow national number one David Goffin in the first of the reverse singles. The other singles match, if needed, is scheduled to pit Belgium's Steve Darcis against John Millman.
Herbert and Mahut were just too strong in the opening set, serving well and overpowering the opponents with an incredible net coverage, losing just 2 points on serve and scoring 2 breaks for a 6-1.
Goffin, ranked No.12 in the world, has won 13 of his 14 Davis Cup matches, the lone loss coming in the 2015 final to Britain's Andy Murray.