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England coach Brian Ashton and fly-half Jonny Wilkinson
Ashton consoles Wilkinson after defeat at the Stade de France
England coach Brian Ashton believes his players should be proud despite defeat by South Africa in the World Cup final.

Ashton's men lost 36-0 to the Springboks five weeks ago but went close to becoming the first side to retain the Cup, only to lose 15-6.

"They did fantastically well getting into the final but in days to come, they'll reflect on what they've done and be really proud," he said.

"I thought they rose to the occasion absolutely magnificently."

England's dismal form earlier in the tournament saw them written off as realistic contenders, but they resurrected their challenge in spectacular fashion as they beat Samoa and Tonga in the group stages before overcoming Australia and France to reach the final.

"I don't think anyone outside the squad gave them a cat in hell's chance of doing anything at all, but they were right in the game until the final whistle," added Ashton.

England winger Mark Cueto is judged to have put a foot in touch as he dives o
The divot on the white line betrays where Cueto's foot strayed into touch before lifting again

The 61-year-old refused to blame England's defeat on video referee Stuart Dickinson who disallowed a try by Mark Cueto early in the second half.

South Africa were leading 9-3 when Cueto dived over in the left corner, but Australia's Dickinson ruled he had brushed the touchline with his foot.

"I'd probably say that it was quite a big moment in the game but I'm not sure that the game turned on it," said Ashton.

"We were still hovering around their 22 after that and maybe could have converted some more opportunities into points on the scoreboard.

"It doesn't make any difference what I think, I'm not the video referee. I was sat a long way away and the video ref has a much better view than me so I'll just go with his decision.

"Ultimately, we've no complaints with anything that happened. I'm not convinced that there was nine points difference between the two teams. The sides were evenly matched and they just edged it."

International referee's chief Paddy O'Brien said there was no doubt Dickinson had made the correct call.

"It was an absolutely brilliant decision by the television match official, and there is a great photo of his foot just on the line prior to grounding the ball," said O'Brien.

"There is no issue, there is no doubt. People may criticise officials for taking time, but it is better that it is correct."

606: DEBATE
Flabby Alonso

Ashton was magnanimous in defeat, paying tribute to South Africa's performances over the tournament as a whole.

"They've been the form team in the tournament, there's no doubt about that. Over the seven weeks, I think they deserve to win," he said.

"I'm bitterly disappointed for our players but I'm absolutely certain that we'll be able to look back on it with pride. When you stand back from the tournament, the players can be incredibly proud - and I told them so.

"I will look back on the World Cup with a great deal of interest. It's been tough at times, exciting at times, enjoyable, miserable - I've been through every single emotion known to human nature. Put all that lot together and it's pretty exhausting!"

England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson said: "South Africa deserve to win, they've been fantastic all tournament so big respect to them. It's well due and it's their moment.

I'm not going to stand here and blame referees. South Africa deserved their win

England captain Phil Vickery

"But it's disappointing. We gave it everything. At times we got close enough and we never really felt we were going to lose.

"We had a lot of ground to catch up in this tournament and the guys all took the responsibility and I was proud of them all. It has been a hell of a journey.

"And we're proud of all the guys who've gone out of their way to support us."

England captain Phil Vickery also refused to point to the disallowed Cueto try.

"You get decisions like that in a game. Sometimes you get them, sometimes you don't," he said.

"I'm not going to stand here and blame referees. South Africa deserved their win.

"We've had a magical time. Fair play to South Africa. They were the better team and this is their victory. We have to wait for four years so they better enjoy it."

Cueto admitted he thought he had scored to put England back in the match, but the official spotted his foot had brushed the line in a last-ditch tackle from number eight Danie Roussouw.

"I watched it on the replay and I thought it was a 100% try," he said.

"You generally have a good feeling straight away when you think you've scored a try. I thought it was a legitimate try and I went straight back to the restart."

Referees' chief Paddy O'Brien tried to draw a line under the issue, saying in the Sunday Times: "It was an absolutely brilliant decision by the television match official, and there is a great photo of (Cueto's) foot just on the line prior to grounding the ball.

"There is no issue, there is no doubt. People may criticise officials for taking time, but it is better that it is correct."

England replacement Lawrence Dallaglio added: "It was one of those 50-50 decisions. If you are a South African it was a try, if you are English it wasn't.

"On another day it could have been given but the decisions all went our way in the quarter-final and the semi-final.

"Today was a day we needed all the decisions to go our way. It was a big decision which changed the course of the game, we only got three points out of it which ultimately wasn't good enough."

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who attended the match at the Stade de France in Paris, said: "England's performance at this World Cup, and in the final against South Africa, was an inspiration to millions in our country.

"Their victories against France and Australia will live long in our memory, and the country is extremely proud of their extraordinary achievements over the past few weeks."

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