In the skulduggery of Bayonne, one, squalid truth about rugby left a jangling echo. It is that the game is still, most likely will always be, a place of refuge for virtual bounty hunters.
That, for the regal talents, for the boys with TNT in their boots, the cheap shots will keep on coming, seldom if ever referenced by a complex stimulus. Brian O'Driscoll is who he is. That is, a footballer who - on any given day ? might as well carry a bullseye stamped between his shoulder blades.
He is a perpetual target. A landing zone for menace. The punch from Mikarea Tewhata that fractured his sinus will, hopefully, have minimal impact on O'Driscoll's World Cup. If so, it will be an arbitrary blessing.
Had Tewhata put him out of the tournament, it wouldn't have taken an extravagant leap of the imagination to see the story as just a gloomy sequel to what befell the Lions captain in Christchurch two years ago. That day, trapped like bread in a toaster, O'Driscoll was dumped head-first, to the ground by All Blacks, Tana Umaga and Keven Mealamu.
The incident, referred to euphemistically as a 'spear-tackle', removed him from the Lions tour with a busted shoulder. Worse, it fed a bushfire of doubt about his future as a footballer. Would O'Driscoll ever be the same player again? His response, of course, was unequivocal.
Once restored to full health, O'Driscoll recovered his verve sufficiently to be voted Six Nations Player of the Year in '06 and, again, in '07. It was quite a statement of resilience. Bayonne amounted to a trifling hiccup by comparison.
So, as the eyes of the rugby world turn to France for RWC '07, we catch up with the Irish captain ...
You seem to have made a fine recovery from Bayonne, where do you go for your mental strength? Do you read self-help books?
"Not really. They're not for me. I just don't over-analyse things actually. I'm very much a live-in-the-moment sort of person. This is my ninth season and, if in doubt, I suppose I feel I can look back and just take from my experience. I mean, I've found myself in a lot of situations, good and bad.
"To me, mental strength is a thing players have or don't have. I mean you can see huge talents coming through, but you know who's going to make it and who's not. It's down to their mentality. It's something that a lot of the public can't see. But players see it. You just know. That's why some players mightn't get the kudos they deserve.
"Like the Simon Easterbys of the world, guys who people will always have question-marks over. But I would go into battle with that guy any day. Denis Leamy the same. Donnacha. Rog. Shane Horgan. Denis (Hickie). Paulie. They're all very, very strong people mentally.
"When the going gets tough, they want to stand up and be counted.
"These guys almost encourage the high level of expectation. Because that's what gives them their thrill. You see, as much as talent goes a long, long way, it's not the be-all and end-all. I've seen guys with less talent being better rugby players because of that edge they have."
How much is it playing on your mind that this is the moment. You will, after all, be 32 when the World Cup comes around again?
"This IS the moment. I remember Matt Williams telling me about Dan Marino. It was his first year with the (Miami) Dolphins. He was 19 or 20. They went to the Superbowl and lost. Marino's response was 'Sure, I've a long career ahead of me?' And he never got to another one.
"You can't let the moment pass you by. You have to make sure it counts because none of us have any idea what's coming. Why wait for another four years to attempt to win it. Why not try to win it this time around?
"We don't know if any of us will be around in four years. So it's about living in the moment."
Despite the criticism of the build-up matches, that is still very much the mindset?
"Absolutely. I mean we can't get ahead of ourselves. But we know ourselves what we're capable of and it's about trying to achieve our own goals rather than meeting the expectations of other people. Because that stuff doesn't really matter. We've spoken within camp about what we feel would be an acceptable outcome from the World Cup?"
And that is?
"As much as it's a tough group, we feel as though ? if a lot of things go right ? we are capable of winning it. But, in the World Cup, any team needs luck. And that applies to us more so in terms of injuries and form as we haven't that big a pool-base to choose from.
"We still don't have quite the level of depth of a lot of the top tier teams. That said, we know what we are and what we have in us. If we can get everyone playing at the very high standard that we left off in the Six Nations, I think we'll worry a few teams."
After the Lions '05 tour, did you ever fear for your future in the game?
"Of course the doubts are there. After the operation, I had only so much movement in it and you're wondering will you ever get the full strength back? I remember playing in my third game back. The whistle went at one point, but I still drove in to make a tackle.
"I was just thinking 'I'll get my confidence up here'. It all happened very quickly. And I went to get my arm up to lead with my right shoulder and I couldn't. I just tucked it under in that sling position, which is where the arm was most comfortable. It must have looked as if I was trying to shoulder charge. And I remember thinking 'Is this ever going to work itself out?'
" But it's a progressional thing. All of a sudden, you get a few hits in. It might only be a training match. And it doesn't hurt. You don't get the stinger and you go 'Okay, maybe this is good?' You just have to bide your time and be patient."
Was it a lonely road back?
"Yeah, because you're not really part of the squad when you're working on recuperation for six months. You become very friendly with doctors and physios. They're the people you hang out with. You know a hell of a lot about them and their lives by the end of the six months.
"But it served as a reality check for me. Perhaps I was just, not exactly going through the motions, but I wasn't getting as much out of games as I could. Or as much as I know I'm capable of. Now I thoroughly look forward to each and every game I play because I know how hard the road back is.
" I suppose you don't know which is going to be your last game. I now try to play each one as if it is going to be the last."
What are your earliest World Cup memories?
"I got a video a few years ago ? 'A Decade of the All Blacks' ? and there was a lot of footage from the inaugural tournament of '87 on it which was interesting. In '91, I was only 12 when Gordon Hamilton got the try against Australia. '95? Lomu. And I remember Gary Halpin giving the finger to the All Blacks fans and all the rest of the lads asking him what the hell he was doing because it was just three or four minutes into the game (laughing)."
Four years ago, you ran the hosts ? Australia ? to a single point in a group game. Does the memory of that near miss haunt you?
"No, because we gave it our all and it just wasn't quite good enough. We gave them a serious scare. Actually, it was a nice game to be involved in because we knew we had qualified (for the quarter-finals). The pressure that was on us in the Argentina match was just phenomenal. I didn't enjoy that game at all. We just wanted to get the job done and get out of there.
" So the Australian game felt almost like a freebie by comparison. I remember afterwards, as much as the players were disappointed, the supporters were almost celebrating a one point defeat. I'd like to think that mentality has changed now."
We've all seen the All Blacks propaganda shots, Dan Carter's bulging biceps etc. Some see them as a shoo-in for the tournament, yet the Wallabies beat them in the Tri-Nations. What is your view of New Zealand?
"They're a shoo-in every time the World Cup comes around. But there's a lot of winning in it. Particularly, from their point of view, with the likes of South Africa and Australia. Because they'll have lost to them quite a number of times.
"So that element of doubt I think will come into their minds. As much as you'd consider them favourites - and you'd be silly not to - it wouldn't shock me massively if they didn't win it."
Has the physical gap between Southern and Northern hemisphere rugby closed?
"It has closed, but I think they're still slightly ahead of us, to be honest. Because they are massive, massive men. The All Blacks and South Africans in particular. And they play a physical game because they feel they have the capability of beating you up as such.
"But the gap has closed and is continuing to close. When you look into the gym now and see the academy boys and the weights they're lifting, you'd be scared. I'm afraid of some of these guys coming into the squad in another couple of years when I'm maybe the oldest there and I'm just being annihilated by 18 and 19-year-olds."
It would seem that, to avoid a quarter-final against the All Blacks, Ireland will have to beat both France in Stade de France and Argentina in Parc des Princes. Would it not be fair to assume that the French have a psychological advantage over us, particularly after winning at Croke Park?
"I've actually had people come up to me and say 'I'm looking forward to the quarter-final in Cardiff.' And I say, 'Well you enjoy it, because I intend to be playing in Paris!' You have a laugh and a joke with people but, at the same time, there's an element of seriousness there.
"We want to win the pool and we feel that we're capable of it. Both France and Argentina will be extremely tough. Most of our recent games with France have been pretty close. As for what happened in Croke Park, maybe we will have to try and use that to our advantage."
Do you get emotional when you see Irish people achieve great things internationally like, say, Padraig Harrington winning the British Open?
"I know I would have if I'd seen it live. Unfortunately, I was filming a TV ad that day. I remember talking to the driver on the way in that morning. I said, 'I'm going to try and steer clear of the golf the whole day so, if you find out anything, I don't want to know!' I was going to try and hang on for the highlights that evening.
"So I avoided everything for the day. Text messages. Phone calls. Then, that evening, I walked into a shop and the shop-keeper says, 'Great win for Harrington, wasn't it?' And I'm ready to decapitate him (laughing). So that took away some of the effect. I would have been shouting at the telly otherwise. Of course, you get emotional. I'm very proud of my nationality. Anything that brings Ireland success, not only in a sporting context. I mean you're proud of people like U2, who put Ireland on the map. Bands. Actors. People you have a sense of pride about because they're showing Ireland in a great light on the biggest stage. So I do get emotional. It might be Sonia in the Olympic Games. Or, maybe, someone like Cian O'Connor. I mean I'd never watched showjumping in my life. And, suddenly, you're totally into it."
Have you dared to dream of returning with the Webb Ellis Cup?
" I think everyone dreams about it. Yeah, of course, I have. But you snap out of it quickly. I suppose you think about how life would be so different, if we did it. But day-dreaming isn't much good for you."
Jonny Wilkinson admitted that, after England won the World Cup four years ago, he still wouldn't allow himself a beer or a piece of chocolate because he'd see that as a sign of mental weakness. Do you play those kind of games with yourself?
"Not even close to those extremes. I mean that's taking it to a phenomenal level. To me, it's about give and take. I deny myself certain things that I know I really want. I play games with food more often than not. Because I really do love my food.
"It's the one thing that doesn't come naturally to me. I don't have any problem with training hard, working hard or missing out on things.
"I don't mind not being able to socialise with friends, go to parties, whatever. None of that really fazes me.
"It comes down to food. Probably a little chocolate hit here and there. I give in sometimes. Because I know that, if I go cold turkey completely, it'll drive me mad. There has to be a balance.
"For pre-season this year, I stopped going out at night. But I won't stop having a glass of wine with dinner if I'm out for a meal. Or I won't stop having a beer or two at home. Because it gives me a little bit of pleasure. You're not overdoing it. It's just about rewarding yourself.
"Because you can't put it all in and not take anything back out. I can be harsh on myself if I feel anything slipping. I mean, I came back a little overweight from my holidays, so I was really stringent for the first three weeks of pre-season. Really knuckled down and the weight was gone."
A lot of your team-mates with Leinster and Ireland are close personal friends. How much would it mean now to pull off something massive with them?
"I think it would be way more special. I mean, I holidayed this summer with Denis (Hickie) and Shane (Horgan). They're not just colleagues. They are really close friends now. We hang around with one another a lot.
"I suppose that was part of my thinking in staying with Leinster and wanting to win the European Cup at home. Maybe if I went to somewhere like Toulouse or Biarritz ? with their buying power and their capacity for bringing big players in ? you might have more of a chance of winning it. But there can't be any better feeling that winning something big with guys you feel a really close bond to. And that's exactly what I'm hoping to do."