A translation of what the French PM says in his letter to John Key is at the end of this story.

PARIS - Prime Minister John Key Thursday said it was time for New Zealand and France to move on after his French counterpart Francois Fillon apologised over the Mathieu Bastareaud controversy.

"At the end of the day we need to put it in perspective and say the matter's now been dealt with," Key said. "We need to move on now."

Overnight, Mr Fillon issued a profuse apology to New Zealand on behalf of France and saying he hoped the incident had not damaged the good relations between the two countries.

Mr Fillon said New Zealand and France had a common bond forged by "the culture of rugby."

"The French team's tour of New Zealand was marked by the unjustifiable behaviour of one its players," Fillon said, without naming names.

"Through his false statements, as a result of which you had to intervene publicly, he seriously tainted the image of your country and its people."

"You may be assured that I deplore this incident," he wrote. "Our two countries share the culture of rugby. This sport has always enabled our two nations to come together and share a mutual respect. I hope that these sentiments will prevail after this regrettable affair."

He added: "Like all rugby fans, I am delighted that your country is organising the next World Cup in 2011."

Mr Key described the incident as "unfortunate" and "regrettable", and said it was appropriate Fillon had written the letter, so both countries could deal with the issue.

"I think from New Zealand's point of view, it's important now that we put the matter behind us," he told Radio New Zealand.

The letter from Mr Fillon acknowledged the seriousness of the matter and Mr Key appreciated the gesture, the spokesman said.

The letter was sent to John Key on Tuesday (Paris time) but only made public in France a day later (Wednesday Paris time).

New Zealand prime ministers are frequently called upon to react to events on and off the rugby pitch, but it is highly unusual for France to make a top-level intervention in any sporting affair. A diplomat in Paris described Fillon's letter as "surprising."

Fillon is an avid Bleus supporter and anglophile while his wife Penelope, who is from Wales, is similarly supportive of the Welsh side. During the Rugby World Cup in 2007 Fillon admitted the split loyalties meant the couple would not watch the games together. "It's impossible. We will certainly not watch the World Cup together," Fillon told journalists at the time. "Each of us will be in a different room." Fillon was present at the France-New Zealand World Cup quarter final match at Cardiff in 2007.

The Bastareaud affair has continued to make headlines in France since the centre's return to Paris on Tuesday of last week. Bastareaud initially played down the incident, expressing surprise at the media attention. His original charge of being attacked by four or five men outside the hotel following France's 14-10 defeat in the second Test against the All Blacks shocked New Zealand and Prime Minister John Key waded into the issue, saying he hoped the incident would not tarnish the country's standing.

After Wellington police found evidence that he had sustained his facial injuries after returning to his hotel in the early hours of June 21, Bastareaud changed his version and said he had drunk too much and fallen over, hitting his head on a bedside table. He said he had invented the story about the attack because he was terrified of being kicked out of the French team and of having to face the anger of his family. His club claimed the player, whose family hails from Guadeloupe, was heading for a holiday in the French West Indies.

Instead, Bastareaud was admitted to hospital suffering from "serious psychological problems," according to Max Guazzini, president of his Paris club Stade Francais.

Press reports say he tried to commit suicide by throwing himself into the River Seine. Further details of the reported attempt are not known, and the name of the clinic in the Paris region where he is being treated is also being kept secret. Media reports also suggest that Bastareaud may have whacked by a team mate after they returned to the hotel.

An association of professional French rugby players called Provale added their voices to appeals for calm.

"We want the press to be fair and responsible," the group said in a statement. "We solemnly ask the media to immediately stop this frenzy, which is feeding doubts and fantasy. More than anything, we want his private life to be respected, and we wish him to return to the rugby pitch as soon as possible."

Former Bleus coach and ex-sport minister Bernard Laporte is appealing for leniency and understanding. Bastareaud's fate will be discussed at an upcoming French Rugby Federation disciplinary commission. He faces a possible fine or suspension from the national team.

"He (Bastareaud) called me on Saturday night, even though I hardly know him.... I sensed that he was very upset. When I read about what happened, I think it's very serious. This kid did not have the maturity to handle this sort of episode. He deserves to be disciplined for it, but that's all," Laporte told the newspaper Le Parisien.

"Dear Prime Minister Key

The French rugby team's recent tour to New Zealand was unfortunately marred by poor behaviour by one of the players.

His false allegations, which prompted a response from your own office, impacted negatively on the fine international image of New Zealand.

I cannot express strongly enough how much I deplore this incident. Pierre Camou, President of the French Rugby Federation, immediately offered his sincere apologies to the New Zealand people and initiated disciplinary procedures against the player involved.

Our two countries share the culture of rugby. We have always fought valiantly on the rugby field and acted like gentlemen when off it. I sincerely hope this despicable incident won't have lasting ramifications on the mutual respect our countries enjoy.

As a fan of the sport, I join with many others in looking forward with keen anticipation to New Zealand's hosting of the Rugby World Cup in 2011.

All the very best,

Francois Fillon
Prime Minister, Republic of France"