LONDON (Reuters) - Eight years on from his World Cup final try that never was, former England winger Mark Cueto heads into retirement fully aware he will be asked about it “until the grave”.
“I personally don’t think about it. But I get asked every day, particularly in World Cup year. It’s a question I‘m going to get asked until the day I die,” one-club man Cueto told Reuters ahead of his final match on Saturday for Sale Sharks.
Two minutes into the second half and with England trailing South Africa 9-3 in the 2007 final in Paris, he dived over in the corner as he was tackled by Danie Rossouw.
As England fans and players celebrated, referee Alain Rolland sent the decision upstairs and Australian Stuart Dickinson ruled Cueto’s left foot was in touch before he grounded the ball.
It was a defining moment, South Africa going on to triumph 15-6 at the Stade de France.
“My gut instinct was it was a try 100 percent,” said Cueto.
“It was the early stages of the TMO (television match official), that went against us really, if it was any other game than the World Cup final I think it would have been given. I think the nerves got the better of the fourth official that day.”
Cueto, 35, will be able to take far fonder memories with him into retirement when he makes his last appearance for Sale at Exeter Chiefs.
He won 55 England caps, made one British and Irish Lions appearance and played more than 300 games for Sale. He also sits top of the tree with an English top-flight record of 90 tries.
In his 14 seasons with Sale, Cueto won the 2006 league title and was part of the 2002 and 2005 European Challenge Cup-winning teams.
“It’s the right time to retire but at the same time I know I’ll miss it. I couldn’t have asked for a better career.”
That he spent it entirely with Sale is a source of much pride.
“It’s never really been an option for me to leave. I’ve been loyal to the club, the club have been loyal to me. I wouldn’t go back and change anything,” said Cueto.
“I never wanted to move out of England and potentially put my England career at risk.”
Of his tries for Sale, the 90th coming in his final home game last weekend, Cueto still picks the one he scored on his debut at Bristol in 2001 as the best.
“There was a loose kick from Bristol. Robbo (former England winger Jason Robinson) caught it on the halfway line, flung it over to me, I went round the winger and fullback and scored, to do that on debut was fantastic.”
Eighty-nine tries later Cueto knows his record is not likely to last long with Tom Varndell, who will join Bristol from Wasps next season, just five behind.
“If I‘m being realistic it will be gone very soon. Tom is an outstanding finisher, still only 29. If Bristol don’t get promoted it might last a bit longer.”
Cueto also enjoyed a fine international strike rate, scoring 20 tries, and believes the current Red Rose backline are as exciting a set of backs as England have had for some time.
“From an attacking point of view it’s probably the best we have seen the team for quite a while,” he said of England’s Six Nations campaign in which they finished runners-up to Ireland.
“England have become a team who are very difficult to beat. Moving forward, it was the attacking side of the gamme that needed to develop.”
Editing by Tony Jimenez