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League lucky in-goal farce didn’t turn into an ‘own goal’ tragedy

Rugby league’s mix-and-match World Cup certainly attracted more than its fair share of critics, but surely nothing can detract from that consummate Kangaroos performance against the Kiwis at Old Trafford.

That’s the long and the short of it.

What must be seriously questioned, though, is the wisdom of playing the code’s international showpiece at a soccer ground.

England, of course, has long had some of the shortest in-goal areas in the game. But that doesn’t make what we saw at Old Trafford, home of Manchester United, any more acceptable.

In these days of increased player safety concerns, such a skinny in-goal surely represents a disaster waiting to happen.

It’s not as if Cup officials hadn’t been forewarned, either. The Luke Lewis injury earlier in the tournament, for one, should have had the alarm bells ringing.

In the event, they must have breathed a huge sigh of relief that the injuries to Australia’s Brett Morris and New Zealand’s Manu Vatuvai  weren’t more serious.

The solution?  In the circumstances, while Cup organisers were playing so fast and loose with player eligibility laws, I wonder if they shouldn’t also have agreed to shorten the playing field length by, say, five metres to ensure (slightly) more player-friendly in-goal areas.

Controversial, maybe. But I’d suggest a lot less controversial than if the in-goal farce had turned into a tragic “own goal” for the code.

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English rugby referee Wayne Barnes may still be the Wallabies’ favourite whistle-blower after that breathtaking win against Wales in Cardiff, but how different it would have been had his late sin-binning of playmaker Quade Cooper brought Australia undone.

Barnes, who has now officiated in 10 Tests involving Australia – all of them won by the Wallabies, including five against Wales – deserves great credit for the way in which he allowed the Millennium Stadium spectacular to flow.

And a first half with not a single scrum surely has to be some sort of rugby world record.

But his questionable reaction to Cooper’s marginally early tackle on Welsh centre Scott Williams – surely worth no more than a penalty – could have had dire consequences for an Australian outfit reduced to 14 men for the final six minutes.

Had Wales somehow conjured a get-out-of-jail victory, Australian fans would have been left condemning Barnes in much the same way as those New Zealanders who have never forgiven the then rookie Test ref’s role in their disastrous World Cup quarter-final loss to France back in 2007.

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I’m not quite sure how to approach this without perhaps sounding a bit like the kid threatening to pick up his bat and ball and go home.

No, I’m not alluding to an explosive Ashes cricket series that has the potential to get downright ugly – but, rather, to sportsword.com.au’s ongoing battle to engage more strongly with you sports buffs out there.

This time last year, as I recall, I made the suggestion that you needn’t bother taking the trouble to send us a Christmas card – that we’d happily settle for a bit of feedback instead.

Then, as now, I was conscious that we might just come across as a couple of desperates looking to have our egos stroked. But, in truth, it was/is simply all about trying to ensure we deliver what you want – in the most user-friendly fashion.

And, frankly, there’d be nothing better than a bit of feedback to serve as motivation if, at times, this labour of love threatens to become a bit of a drag.

— Peter Thomson

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