French media are claiming a New Zealand media conspiracy is trying to ruin the reputation of their rugby team.
On Tuesday, footage released by Sky Television appeared to show French centre Aurelien Rougerie head-butt All Black captain Richie McCaw, who was lying on the ground, before raking his fingers across McCaw's face and eyes in the 77th minute of the Rugby World Cup final, won 8-7 by the All Blacks.
But French online news sites have said the eye-gouging claims are New Zealand media's attempts to further damage the team's reputation after a tournament-long smear campaign against Les Bleus.
Midi Olympique's internet site told its readers that despite the All Blacks being crowned world champions, the anti-French campaign continues.
"The New Zealand press, in particular the daily local the New Zealand Herald, is taking its revenge after the heroic resistance of the Blues in the World Cup final.
"It was legitimate to think the conspiracy against the French team, which didn't stop throughout the competition, had ended. But on the contrary, our colleagues continue to stoke the attacks," the news site said.
"After the alleged gouging by Julien Bonnaire on the back row All Black Richie McCaw during the pool match, it's now the turn of Thierry Dusautoir and Aurelien Rougerie to face accusations. The French captain, picked as the best player of the year by the IRB several hours after the final, and the Clermont centre are suspected of having committed the same act, and, by chance, on the same player."
McCaw said last night that he hadn't seen the eye-gouging footage himself and had only seen the screengrab image in the Herald.
"I definitely had a poke in the eye, but whether that was intentional or not, I don't know," he told TVNZ.
Midi Olympique conceded the latest images of the incident during the final "nevertheless capture Aurelien Rougerie in a regrettable position".
"An act which happened when Richie McCaw, the All Black captain, increased the number of errors on the ground without being penalised by the South African referee, Craig Joubert, who was very relaxed in this area."
To make matters worse, Midi Olympique reported, Pascal Pape is also at the centre of a controversy, after spitting at a Herald photographer on Tuesday morning outside a bar.
The website of sports newspaper L'Equipe also mentioned New Zealand reports of an eye-gouging incident.
It said this was the "umpteenth controversy" raised by the Herald during the Rugby World Cup.
It called the foul-play claims a "final farewell" for the France team before they made their way home.
L'Equipe said the incident could explain why the All Blacks, who "for once remain temperate", did not exchange jerseys after the final with Les Bleus and why they were not mentioned in any victory speeches.
"According to our information, not a single player of the All Blacks mentioned this controversy during the ceremony," it said.
An IRB spokesman told the Herald no one had been cited for the incident before the deadline of 10.45pm on Tuesday.