The ex-Sale star was a bootlace away from becoming England’s hero in the 2007 World Cup final against South Africa in Paris, where he was denied what he still believes was a match-winning try.
Referee Alain Rolland was unsighted when Cueto touched down in the corner early in the second half and Stuart Dickinson, the television match official, spent two minutes and 35 seconds reviewing footage before eventually deciding that the England man’s left foot had made contact with the touchline.
It consigned England to a 15-6 defeat and gives the class of 2019 the chance to make amends when they take on the Springboks in Yokohama.
“Everyone takes the mick out of me when I say I still think it was a try but I genuinely do,” said Cueto. “There’s a million angles to suggest it was a try and there was one angle where it was 50-50. So in that case you have got to go with it.”
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Cueto has no doubt England would have gone on to lift the World Cup had the try been awarded and he is equally convinced it would have been given today due to the advances in technology. “VAR is so prominent in football at the minute and is almost at the point where we were with the TMO 12 years ago,” he said.
“It had only just been introduced to the game and there weren’t as many camera angles and as many cameras at the matches so it made it difficult. The one shot from behind that showed my foot in the air over the touchline, that camera is probably 100 metres away from where I actually was.
“That shows how basic the TMO was back then, whereas now they have got cameras in the flags so every angle is taken care of and you can get within a metre of every play in the game.
The build-up to the World Cup final in Yokahama is underway and central figures such as England's Billy Vunipola are under pressure to come up with some all-elusive match tickets to cope with the demand from family members https://t.co/jz2uMBxfNd
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 29, 2019
“Everything is so advanced now, you rarely get the decision wrong. Let’s hope there isn’t a controversial issue like that on Saturday but, if there was, I think you’d definitely be able to make a 100 per cent decision on whether it was or wasn’t.
“We were 9-3 down so a converted try would have put us 10-9 in front with 20 minutes to go and suddenly all the pressure is on South Africa, who never looked like breaking us that day. South Africa didn’t get in our 22, they scored all their points from penalties. You never know how it would have gone but we were confident we could have closed the game out.”
The enormity of the decision hit home to Cueto a few days after he arrived back in England. “I remember filling my car at a petrol station when a white van went past with a load of builders in it who all shouted: ‘It was a try’,” recalled Cueto, who is now Sale’s commercial director.
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“I thought that was quite nice. If people are taking it that way and they’re not hurling rotten fruit and stones at me, then it’s not a bad thing. But I thought it would last maybe six weeks and once the World Cup has died down it would all be forgotten.
“But 12 years on, believe it or not, it still seems to come up every other day. It’s incredible really. But I see it as a positive. It’s my fifth year since I retired and you soon get forgotten so it’s quite a nice thing to be remembered. Obviously I’d rather be remembered for something a bit more positive.
“Certainly this week I knew it was going to be mentioned more than ever. I don’t know when it will go away, I think maybe if we go on to beat South Africa this weekend and win the World Cup then there’s almost no reason to refer back to ’07 any more. From a selfish point of view, that would be sad because then I’d be really forgotten, wouldn’t I?”
– Press Association
WATCH: Billy Vuniupola meets the media in Japan on Tuesday ahead of England’s World Cup final with South Africa
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