The try that never was: Cueto confusion shows need for more vision

More cameras and better support from broadcasters can prevent repeat of French farce in final. By Hugh Godwin
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Rugby union administrators must decide whether to pay for more refined equipment aimed at avoiding the controversy generated by Mark Cueto's disallowed try in the World Cup final. Expert opinion suggests Cueto was denied a perfectly good score simply by the technological limitations of the television coverage by the French host broadcaster. One possible way forward is to invest in extra cameras, strategically placed at each corner of the field.

Both Cueto – who was "100 per cent" convinced he had scored early in the second half of the 15-6 defeat by South Africa – and Stuart Dickinson, the Australian television match official who ruled otherwise, have since looked again at the try that never was, and both have said they are sticking to their polarised opinions. But Dickinson admitted he did not get the service he wanted from the French TV producers, while there is significant doubt over the reliability of the crucial camera footage.

Cueto would have been only the second English try-scorer in a World Cup final, and the five points might have helped return the Webb Ellis Cup to Twickenham for another four years. By any standards there was a lot riding on Dickinson when he was asked early in the second half by the Irish referee, Alain Rolland: "Stuart, can you just confirm, is there any reason I cannot give a try please?"

Dickinson spent two minutes and 35 seconds reviewing various camera angles, and did it all again in the referee's room after the match. On Wednesday he confirmed he had relied on a camera at the other end of the field to decide Cueto's left foot made contact with the touchline before the Sale wing grounded the ball. "If you can't prove his foot's out, he must be in," said Dickinson. "But it was out."

The camera concerned would have been about 100 metres away, and five feet off the ground, so not in a flat plane looking along the touchline. Cueto's left boot may have appeared to be on the line only because it obscured the white of the touchline beyond it. This version – that the foot was above the line but not in contact with it – is corroborated by the camera in front of Cueto, only 15 metres away, and another one overhead.

Martin Turner, the executive producer of Sky Sports' rugby coverage, has long experience of instant replays. "I have no idea whether it happened in this case, but given the lack of a flat plane and the camera's distance from the incident, it may appear a player's foot has touched the line when it hasn't," he said. "One way of clearing that type of incident up is to compare two or more angles on a split screen. You can do it reliably because all cameras are locked to the same time-code. You can place pictures side by side taken at precisely the same time to demonstrate that although it looks like a boot is touching a line in one frame, one or more other frames show it wasn't."

Cueto certainly thought as much when he watched the final through for the first time at his parents' home on Wednesday evening, using his father's hard-disk recording. "My gut instinct was that it was a try, and looking at it again I thought, 'There's no way you can't give it'," Cueto said. "As my foot got close to the touchline it came off the ground into the air. That angle from behind is the one you need to be closer on. From every other angle the try is fine."

There were 200 stills photographers in the stadium and no photo has come to light showing Cueto's foot definitively on the line. The BBC sport website published a photo of a divot they said was caused by Cueto when TV footage showed it came from the knee of the cover-tackling Danie Rossouw.

Little blame can be attached to Dickinson, who claims he was misquoted as saying Cueto was out by 25 to 30 centimetres, if he was deceived by an optical illusion. But the game's administrators must learn from the experience. "The producer spoke English but it took me a number of goes to get hold of him," said Dickinson. "Then I was saying, 'Stop, stop' for a freeze-frame on the reverse replay, and got no response. If you'd had a freeze-frame that would have made it easy for everybody."

Football has so far steered clear of TV rewinds to assist referees, while cricket, tennis, American football, basketball and ice hockey all use instant replays in different ways. The NFL have invested heavily in replay technology, and give coaches two chances each game to challenge referees' decisions.

Rugby may be asking too much of its officials if equipment is not up to scratch. The next innovation will be in the French club championship, reviewing decisions up to five metres back from the goal line.