THE French sports newspaper which made allegations about the private life of a member of the Irish rugby team, ahead of tomorrow's World Cup game, has denied being involved in a dirty tricks campaign.
'L'Equipe', one of the most popular papers in France, published slurs centred on the private life of Irish outhalf Ronan O'Gara earlier this week.
However, the rugby editor of 'L'Equipe' said yesterday that the unsubstantiated claims were "just two lines" in an article, and that the story had been blown out of proportion by the Irish media.
"I think the dirty tricks are from the Irish tabloids," Arnaud David maintained. "There was never a campaign in our newspapers.
"What has been written two days ago was just a report on the mood in the Irish camp, and what went on during that strange press conference on Monday," he said.
He added that the Irish players present had seemed "itchy and nervous".
Ireland's number 10 was questioned by a French journalist "about rumours circulating around him," Mr David claimed.
"He said there were a whole lot of rumours and they were all bullshit."
In France, where libel laws are more lenient in some respects than in Ireland, articles on the private lives of sport stars are not uncommon.
Earlier this year, an article was published about a high-profile rugby coach, a high-profile player and the mistress they were allegedly sharing.
However, Mr David was adamant yesterday that the slurs against the Irish team were not an attempt to upset the squad ahead of the Group D game in Paris.
"It's just two lines in a report about that strange press conference where the big news for us was that [Peter] Stringer is out of the team. It was not about O'Gara. The big news was that Eddie O'Sullivan had taken a gamble in getting rid of Stringer and putting [Eoin] Reddan in and getting rid of Denis Hickie."
According to journalists present, the French reporter who wrote the article had not been impressed by O'Gara's short answers, or the short amount of time allotted.
The IRFU declined to comment on the matter yesterday but rubbished suggestions that the Irish team was no longer speaking to the French media.
And Denis Hickie denied rumours that the Irish camp was in turmoil after an insipid start to a World Cup they were tipped, in some quarters, to win.
"I've heard that it's not a happy camp -- which is rubbish," the winger said. "I've heard that guys are walking out -- which is rubbish. It's very annoying having to defend something that you haven't done."
He expressed his personal disappointment after being dropped for tomorrow's game.
"With your family over here and friends and people back home, you know you do even though nobody would ever say, you let them down, you do sort of feel that you've let them down so its very hard," he told TV3.
FRENCH NAME TEAM, SEE SPORT