On the eve of a showdown being touted as the match which will be central in determining this year’s RBS 6 Nations champions, French scrum-half Morgan Parra upped the ante by branding Ireland ‘cheats’.
In addition to publicly criticising “cheating” Ireland, he added insult to considerable injury by saying he is confident of coming out on top in today’s crunch clash at Stade de France.
The irony of the scrum-half’s outburst following Thierry Henry’s double hand-ball offence — on the same pitch — in the creation of the goal which saw France progress to this summer’s football World Cup finals in South Africa while Ireland bowed out was not wasted on the thousands of Irish supporters on the streets of Paris last night.
Suffice to say that the unanimous reaction was that Parra had something of a cheek, in addition to which he was seriously out of order in expressing so controversial and insulting an opinion hours before an already well hyped match of major importance to both nations.
To a man they denounced the French player's comments as “disgraceful and not in keeping with the spirit of the occasion”.
Parra's insistence is that he has respect for Ireland, but not admiration.
Where he has caused offence, however, is his use of the noun ‘cheat’.
“The Irish have a great team, with a Munster spine, but I am not impressed,” Parra said. “We can be by certain players but not in general by their team.
“How many matches have they gone without defeat? Twelve, 13? Well fine, that will finish at 12 this Saturday.
“To win you shouldn't respect your opponents too much.
“If you respect them too much,
if there's too much admiration, then we can't be above them.
“Personally I don't have admiration for anyone I'll be facing.
“But careful, that doesn't prevent respect. They have gone 12 matches without defeat after all.
“But it's respect, not admiration.”
Ireland have the added motivation of revenge as they are still smarting at the way their footballers were defeated by France in the World Cup play-offs following Henry's now infamous handball.
Yesterday, prior to Parra’s outburst, Irish captain Brian O’Driscoll had played down any suggestion of his team being motivated by a desire to right that wrong on behalf of their soccer counterparts.
“A different code,” he said, though when pressed on the matter he did admit there had been a shared sense of injustice before adding: “Whatever it was, three months ago, time to move on.”
There was no such diplomacy on bonhomie from Monsieur Parra, however.
“They (the Irish) cheat every weekend,” he said. “So that won't be a surprise. They have experienced players who can do so.
“We dissected the video very well. There's not a moment when they're not cheating.
“They have a great defence. (They're) cheating, but intelligently cheating. It's very well done.
“If we did the same thing, we would be punished each time. But instead they're the least penalised team in the tournament, which is very impressive.”
The Marc Lievremont-coached French launched their campaign with a comfortable 18-9 win over Scotland at Murrayfield last Sunday.
Given their forward supremacy, however, they were not overly impressive, particularly in the second half.
And they are likely to face a sterner test of their title credentials by this afternoon’s Irish visitors to the Stade de France.
The Grand Slam champions are undefeated in their past 12 matches but Parra believes that run will be brought to an end today in a match many believe could decide the outcome of this year's tournament.
It was Ireland who inflicted France's only defeat at the Stade de France since the tournament was extended to six nations 10 years ago, when an O'Driscoll hat-trick inspired them to a 27-25 win.
Parra knows if Les Bleus want to avoid that happening again they will need to put on a much improved performance.
“Against Scotland there was a lack of connection between the lines,” he said. “I have to take a bit of responsibility for that.
“It will be very important on Saturday because the match will be more difficult against Ireland than against Scotland.
“We can't play like we did last weekend.”