Up steps Steve Walsh
Steve Walsh will be refereeing his second Super Rugby Final this weekend, same person, same name, different nationality.
In 2007 Walsh was a New Zealand referee; in 2012 he is an Australian referee. The fall and rise of Steve Walsh is a good story.
Steve Walsh, who is really a New Zealander though living in Sydney and refereeing out of Australia, started young. He had back trouble at school and started refereeing as 16-year-old schoolboy. He refereed his first Super Rugby match at the age of 25 and his first Test at 26. He was 31 at the 2003 Rugby World Cup and has now refereed at three World Cups.
Being young and forthright have been virtues for him but it also meant a few stumbles and in 2009 the New Zealand stopped his contract, in effect rendering him jobless. The rise after the fall started in 2010 when he moved to Sydney and was accepted into the New South Wales refereeing structure, starting at schoolboy level. Quickly he was well and truly back at the top – Super Rugby, Tests, World Cup – and now a second Super Final.
He talks about getting back up: "I was given a second chance through the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) and after spending the majority of 2009 in Australia working odd jobs like labouring and couriering at night and taking time to referee club rugby I got to a stage where the ARU then offered me a contract for 2010/11.
"This all came about through my relationship with David Nucifora (ARU High Performance Manager) from when he was the head coach of the Blues. This was ultimately my goal in moving to Australia and hopefully re-igniting my rugby career, and so I was grateful for the opportunity, although I realised this was only the foot in the door and I would need to prove myself to many critics both on and off the field."
It has been a long road back for Walsh, through plenty of hard work, but he explains further: "My first year in 2010 was really challenging mostly because getting that level of comfort back takes time and building confidence again is key.
"In the time off I was making many changes to how I live my life and my values, resulting in what I believe is a more collaborative and less forthright approach to my on-field delivery. Still during that year it took a great deal of adjustment for me to be totally at ease with these new concepts of letting go, observing more, reacting less and putting extra thought into the demeanour I was working towards.
"Super Rugby 2011 was close to a write-off for me with an injury but after that I was fortunate enough to be selected for the World Cup and through this I gained confidence and surety in order to deliver a consistent performance. I feel that 2012 has been a good flow on from this and a depth of personal growth that has seen me more confident and at ease in all my dealings.
"One of the additional positive outcomes from my joining the ARU is that I have been able to contribute in a coaching and mentoring role which does provide me with a great sense of giving back. We have a good young team of up-and-coming referees and it’s a real pleasure to see them develop.
"Ultimately I can say that I in fact value all the negative experiences I had to go through. I often say 'I wish that this had all happened 10 years ago' because I feel in a much better space and now have a greater appreciation of where I'm at now."
Walsh is back up – on the IRB's merit list of the nine top referees in the world and chosen for the 2012 Final as the best-performing referee in the Super Rugby this season. His story is a good one.