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France Rugby World Cup bid sparks controversy

Rugby World Cup 2023 host country candidates press conference - Royal Garden Hotel, London, Britain - September 25, 2017 Sebastien Chabal, #France2023 Leader and Bid Ambassador with Brayley and Dhyreille Lomu, children of Jonah Lomu. Reuters/Paul Childs

Rivals New Zealand accused France Tuesday of exploiting the sons of the late All Black star Jonah Lomu to promote their 2023 Rugby World Cup bid.

The French rugby federation flew seven-year-old Dhyreille and Brayley, eight, over from New Zealand with their mother Nadene to support their bid for the 2023 World Cup tournament.

"Dhyreille was born in Marseille when he [Jonah Lomu] came to play, France winger Sebastien Chabal told reporters on Monday as he carried the pair on his knee.

"As he [Dhyreille] told us earlier, quite simply he is known at school as the 'Frenchie' and Jonah Lomu loved France," Chabal said.

Known as sports first global superstar, Jonah Lomu died in 2015 after years of battling kidney disease.

Although revered in France where he played three games for Marseille in 2010, sports pundits have poured scorn on the tenuous links between Lomu and Paris.

Furthermore, they've questioned the ethics of the French team in using Lomu's sons as the face of their bid, less than two years since their father died.

"It might be different if they were in their mid-teens, but Brayley was six and Dhyreille five when their beloved dad died," wrote Fairfax New Zealand rugby writer Tony Smith.

He suggested the numerous ex-All Blacks currently plying their trade in France, including the legendary Dan Carter, would have been better bid ambassadors.

The children's involvement also ruffled feathers among commentators in Ireland, which along with South Africa is also bidding for the 2023 tournament.

Irish sports site ball.ie labelled the stunt "emotionally suspect", while Irish Independent columnist Jack O'Toole said some would find it disturbing.

The French bid comes after Paris secured rights to host the 2024 Olympic Games.

Sports Minister Laura Flessel said she saw no obstacle in hosting both tournaments: "It’s an opportunity for us to host the Rugby world cup. It would be an opportunity and a catalyst to improve rugby in our schools," she said.