Rugby League World Cup: England & Tonga coaches dispute controversial late call

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Highlights: England reach final despite late Tonga comeback
Rugby League World Cup final: Australia v England
Date: Saturday, 2 December Kick-off: 09:00 GMT
Coverage: Watch live coverage and highlights on BBC One, Connected TV, online & the BBC Sport app; live commentary on BBC Radio 5 live; live text commentary on the BBC Sport website & app

Tonga coach Kristian Woolf was "surprised" video technology was not used for a potentially crucial late decision in their World Cup semi-final defeat - but England counterpart Wayne Bennett backed the referee.

Andrew Fifita went over at the end of England's 20-18 win but referee Matt Cecchin ruled he had lost the ball.

Tonga felt the ball was taken in a way that meant play should have continued.

"I can't get my head around that. You've got to take a look," said Woolf.

Prop Fifita lost the ball when tackled by Elliott Whitehead, and Cecchin chose not to consult the video referee.

"That really surprises me," said Woolf. "We've got to ask the question. It doesn't matter now because the game is done but you've got to ask the question for your own peace of mind."

But Bennett pointed to a similar incident involving England winger Jermaine McGillvary a minute earlier, saying: "The ref allowed play on and exactly the same thing happened to Fifita.

"It wasn't a try because the ball was stripped off him. It was a loose carry, that's what it comes under the category of."

England almost let slip a 20-0 lead in a frantic finale in Auckland, conceding three tries in the last seven minutes, but held out to reach the World Cup final for the first time since 1995.

They will face the Kangaroos, who thrashed Fiji 54-6 in the other semi-final, in Brisbane next Saturday - a match you can watch live on BBC One.

Tonga contest referee Matt Cecchin's decision
Tonga protested against Matt Cecchin's decision but the referee awarded a knock-on against Andrew Fifita before blowing for full-time

Was it a try?

Fifita gathered the loose ball after the tackle by Whitehead and eventually grounded the ball over the line.

Had Cecchin ruled Fifita had the ball stripped from him illegally, he could have allowed play to continue and awarded a match-winning score to Tonga.

But should a try have been given? BBC Sport's television pundits had differing views:

St Helens captain and ex-England international Jon Wilkin: "Whitehead, for me, steals the ball. Fifita picks it up, and I think that's a try in Super League.

"There are two ways to look at it - one is that it's a loose carry and maybe it's his responsibility, but in Super League that's a try.

"I think 25,000 people in the crowd were making the sign for the video referee, but to be fair to the referee, he made calls on the point, made his decision and stuck with it.

"But in the last minute of a World Cup semi-final - wow. What a finish."

St Helens head coach Justin Holbrook: "I'm happy with 'no try' because I think it's a loose carry, but it's a brave decision from the referee.

"You've got every right to go upstairs and have a look. The video referee would have been very nervous - imagine having to make a decision on that.

"You go upstairs in the fifth minute of a game. Any time there's a try, you'd go upstairs and check it. I can't believe he didn't but I'm glad he didn't."

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This is how close Tonga came to 'impossible' win

'I wasn't nervous'

England appeared in full control of the semi-final after tries from McGillvary, Gareth Widdop and John Bateman had established a 20-point lead.

Their defence was superb for the most part, preventing Tonga from scoring any points until the 73rd minute, before what almost became an unthinkable collapse.

"I wasn't nervous," said Bennett. "The time clock was on our side.

"It was a quality game of football. It was a sell-out crowd and the atmosphere was great. Both teams turned up and threw everything at each other. We had our hands full but we got the job done.

"They had some chances but we kept turning up in defence which was great. At the end of the day, our defence won the game for us. I'm really pleased with that."

Tonga supporters
Tonga were playing in a World Cup semi-final for the first time

'The atmosphere was insane'

Tonga, appearing in their first World Cup semi-final, played their part in one of the most memorable games in the competition's history.

Their supporters made up the majority of a sell-out crowd of 30,003 in Auckland, arriving several hours before kick-off and creating a special atmosphere at the stadium.

Hymns were sung during the second half, while Tonga's players remained on the field for more than 30 minutes after full-time to perform a ceremonial dance and celebrate their achievements with family, friends and fans in the stands.

  • Tonga captain Sika Manu: "It's a tough loss to take but I'm really proud to be part of this group. We hope we've made the Tongan people proud of us. I hope we can carry it onto the next World Cup."
  • England captain Sean O'Loughlin: "It was an unreal game to be part of. The turnout and support has been great, even for us. They were supporting Tonga today but the reception they've given us has been fantastic."
  • England prop James Graham: "I've played in some massive games, some hostile atmospheres and some great crowds - the first game back at the new Wembley and all that - but never anything like this before. They fought to the death and what a game to be a part of."
  • England prop Chris Hill: "The atmosphere was insane. Sometimes you couldn't hear the person stood next to you."

Injury concerns for England

England, who lost to holders Australia in the opening group game of the tournament, have doubts over captain Sean O'Loughlin and hooker Josh Hodgson before the final.

Hodgson hurt his knee in the first half, while loose forward O'Loughlin injured his quad muscle.

Hodgson's participation in the final is unlikely, according to Bennett, who said: "I don't think he'll be right to play next week. You don't normally limp off like that and play next week."

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