WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — More than 35,000 fans have signed an online petition calling for an explanation of the no-try call Saturday that cost Tonga an historic victory over England in a semifinal of the Rugby League World Cup.
But World Cup referees boss Tony Archer stood by Australian referee Matt Ceccin, saying the last-minute call to disallow a Tonga try to Andrew Fifita was correct and defended the referee's decision not to call for a video replay.
Tonga trailed England 20-0 in the 72nd minute in Auckland before launching a remarkable comeback in which it scored three tries in seven mintues to cut the lead to two points.
Fifita then broke through the England defense with time up on the clock, dropped the ball briefly and recovered it before touching down for what might have been a match-winning try which would have sent Tonga into next week's final against defending champion Australia.
Ceccin ruled Fifita had lost the ball because of a loose carry and immediately blew the fulltime whistle, without consulting the television referee. The Tonga players appealed to the referee to review the decision but Ceccin stuck with his call.
The contentious ending caused more than 35,000 fans of Tonga, a Pacific Island kingdom with a population of just over 100,000 to express their frustration with the decision through an online petition which called on refereeing officials to explain their decision. The petition, started by Australia-based Tonga fan Vai'Ana Ta'ai said England had claimed "a stolen win."
"To referees it is just another day of work but for the Tongan players it is heart, soul and their world. Tongan players and not playing for money but for their country, their heritage and their families."
Archer on Sunday stood by Ceccin saying his decision was correct and he didn't need to involve the television official.
"The decision is correct for me in that is (Whitehead) is effecting a tackle and there was no indicator he was stealing the ball," Archer said. "It's a loose carry, knock on. The referee called it on field.
"There's always the option to (go to the video referee) on a point-scoring play but we encourage the referees to make a decision on-field when they're in a position to see it.
"Ultimately, if it had been referred up, the same result would have been the case. It would have been a no-try because the decision was correct."