World Cup - Referee: Steve Walsh

Tue, 06 Sep 17:04:00 2011

We look at the career of World Cup referee Steve Walsh.

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For a man whose living is derived from upholding rules, Steve Walsh has broken a few.

He is the New Zealander whose refereeing skills are considered amongst the finest on the planet and a 39-year-old whose record of 37 Tests is only bettered on the Rugby World Cup panel by veterans Alain Rolland and Jonathan Kaplan. 

But he is also the referee who was once banished from the game, who fled to Australia to restart his career and who returns to New Zealand hoping for redemption in his homeland.

Walsh’s playing career was cruelly curtailed at 13 due to a spinal injury.

However, he took up refereeing at the age of 16 and in 1998, just 10 years after picking up the whistle, he refereed Argentina versus France in Buenos Aires.

After making his debut at the Rugby World Cup in 1999, the Six Nations followed in 2000 and 18 months later he was overseeing Australia versus South Africa.

He was taking part in his second RWC as a 31-year-old in 2003 when things started to unravel. Walsh was working as the fourth official during England’s match with Samoa when he got into a row with England fitness coach Dave Reddin. His suspension cost him one match, but he was back by the end of the tournament.

He continued to secure selections for big matches, but in 2005 he found himself in hot water again when he engaged in a furious exchange with London Irish winger Shane Horgan in New Plymouth during the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand.

His final misdemeanor came in 2009. In 2007 he had enjoyed a successful, third RWC, but the following year his motivation had started to wane and his refereeing became “atrocious” by his own admission.

Then one morning he turned up drunk to a refereeing conference, and the New Zealand Rugby Union sacked him.

Walsh started refereeing club football in Sydney whilst working as a labourer and courier driver, and made a return in the Super 14 in 2010. Controversy was never far away, though, and the Brumbies had him replaced for a clash with the Reds in April 2010 after they were unhappy with his performance in an earlier clash.

However, his comeback has been generally well received and, with a return to Test rugby in 2010 for Japan’s clash with Tonga, Walsh will hope that his troubles are behind him as he embarks on a fourth RWC.

Walsh will take charge of the France-Japan, Argentina-Romania, Wales-Namibia and France-Tonga matches in New Zealand.


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