Not so much "Swing Low" as swings and roundabouts. Well, swings, roundabouts and the video rewind button.
As would be the case in their ultimate match of 2007, the World Cup final at the Stade de France on Saturday night, the opening game of England's fairground ride of a year featured a contentious call by the designated television match official. On that occasion, against Scotland at Twickenham in February, it was a swing in their favour, the Irishman Donal Courtney awarding a try to Jonny Wilkinson even though replays firmly indicated that the England talisman's right foot had strayed into touch as he plunged into the right corner. "It was just a farce," the Scotland coach, Frank Hadden, complained.
Not that the memory of that generous award in a 42-20 Six Nations victory was of remote consolation to the England camp in Paris yesterday, the morning after the roundabout left them reflecting on what might have been in the match that mattered most. Mark Cueto, for one, was adamant that he had scored a perfectly valid try when he dived into the left corner two minutes into the second-half, with the score 9-3 in South Africa's favour.
"Generally, players know when it's definitely a try, and my immediate reaction was that it was a try," the Sale wing said. "Even watching the replay on the big screens, as 80,000 other people did, I still thought it was a try. From the front, you could see the ball was grounded well. From the back, you could see that I wasn't in touch. I thought the foot that they were looking at – that they thought might have gone into touch – lifted up just before it went into touch. You could see the ball was grounded before the knee went into touch. So, for me, it was 100 per cent a try."
Sadly for Cueto and for England, though, in the black and white of the match scoring his "try" was 100 per cent absent from the details that added up to a 15-6 victory for South Africa. After prolonged scrutiny of the televisual evidence, Stuart Dickinson, the Australian TMO, ruled that Cueto's left boot had brushed the whitewash of the left touchline before England's No 11 managed to ground the ball as Danie Rossouw, the Springbok No 8, desperately tried to drag him sideways.
"The fact is it wasn't a try, because the video ref said it wasn't, and that's it," the England coach, Brian Ashton, said yesterday, clearly weary of the matter having been whipped into such a controversy and keen to draw a definitive line under it. "As for what difference it would have made, you just don't know. We could have got the try and still lost the game. We had a couple of chances after that but we weren't clinical enough."
New Zealand's Paddy O'Brien, the referees' manager for the International Rugby Board, said there was "no doubt" in his mind that Dickinson had made the correct call. "It was an absolutely brilliant decision," he said. "There's a great photo of his [Cueto's] foot just on the line prior to grounding the ball. There is no issue. There is no doubt. People may criticise officials for taking time, but it is better that it is correct. "
All of which must come as music to the ears of Dickinson following the tirade he endured from Bernard Laporte in the lobby of a Wellington hotel back in June. The Sydneysider was berated about his handling of the opening summer Test between Laporte's French team and the All Blacks – a 42-11 defeat for France – and allegedly told that his chances of refereeing at the World Cup in France could be ruined. After talk of disciplinary action from the IRB, Laporte sent a letter to Dickinson which included an apology, and which the Australian had to have translated from French.
To their credit, despite Cueto's protests and the lingering disappointment about the outcome on Saturday, there will be no need for any French letters from the England camp. Their attitude was reflected by a sanguine Wilkinson.
"It looked OK to me, but I'm sure the guy making the decision made a good one," he said. "Maybe in other games it would have gone our way."Reuse content