French rugby chief Bernard Laporte raised the stakes in a bitter war of words over the destiny of the 2023 World Cup on Tuesday by saying the sport risks being seen as weak over doping.
Last week, the Rugby World Cup Board recommended the World Rugby Council award the tournament to South Africa after a technical report placed it ahead of rival bidders France and Ireland on an overall score across a range of criteria.
That prompted a furious response from Laporte, the president of the French Rugby Federation (FFR), who said the organisation would be writing to World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont seeking a correction over what they said were a series of inaccuracies, including the quality of stadiums and hotels, ahead of next week's final vote on the 2023 hosts.
"We are not rated as well over doping because they tell us that we are too strict!," Laporte told AFP last week.
"On security, we have the same number of points even though there are 52 murders a day in South Africa.
Former France coach Laporte went even further in an interview with Britain's Times newspaper published on Tuesday, highlighting a section of the World Rugby report that says "there is a potential risk related to the criminality of anti-doping violations in France" because the government had not guaranteed an exemption for players.
"France is the leader in the crackdown and fight against doping worldwide," Laporte said.
"If the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) sees this report, they will not believe it. It is laughable. When you read a statement like that you allow for doping being acceptable, leaving the door open to abuse."
But a World Rugby spokesman told AFP in London later Tuesday they had no intention of seeking an exemption from French law and were committed to the fight against doping in sport.
"We understand that emotion is high and that some people are disappointed to read the contents of this exhaustive, objective and independently-audited report, but those comments are not a fair reflection of the situation," the spokesman said.
"The fact is World Rugby is not seeking an exemption for players from French law.
"Our expectation would be that in the case of there being an adverse analytical finding against a player during the tournament, that normal anti-doping due process be allowed to continue to completion. Once that process was complete, criminal proceedings would follow if required by national law."
He added: "This expectation would not extend to include cases of suspected trafficking or the supply of banned substances. In accordance with WADA's position and in line with the UNESCO (the United Nations, Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization) International Convention Against Doping in Sport, World Rugby actively supports the robust policing of groups or individuals who are ultimately putting banned substances into the hands of athletes."
Both South Africa, in 1995, and France, in 2007, have previously staged the World Cup outright, while Ireland are bidding to be the main hosts for the first time.
The aim of the report was to provide an objective guide to voters and prevent the kind of backroom deal-making involved in previous World Cup host decisions.
But its publication has proved controversial, with Irish officials unhappy at coming third with a score of 72.25 compared to 75.88 for France and 78.97 for South Africa in what they have since said was a "skewed" system.
The Irish government, re-affirming its support for a 2023 bid, said Tuesday it had been told of the Irish Rugby Football Union's "reservations" about the report and that these would be "pursued" by the IRFU with its counterparts in World Rugby.
The fall-out from Laporte's initial comments prompted South African Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux to weigh into the row by saying "we hope that sanity will prevail because an independent process is there for a very specific reason -- to keep it independent".
The World Rugby Council will make the final decision in London on November 15.