Walsh hangs up his whistle
Steve Walsh, a rugby referee in the top category of rugby referees, is to end his career with immediate effect.
The suddenness of the decision may lead to speculation of misbehaviour but it is in fact a case of Walsh's grabbing hold of a business opportunity before it is too late and the 42-year-old is out of referee for a while.
Walsh has been a referee for some 26 years and has reached great heights, including refereeing at the World Cups in 2003, 2007 and 2011. To most he was regarded as a certainty to referee at the 2015 World Cup as well. It has not always been smooth sailing but he ends in a excellent position and able to make his own decision to stop and do something else.
Doing something else is not always easy for a top referee who have to buzz around the world regularly during the year in a game that is played now a year at a time.
When Walsh, born in Cambridge, New Zealand, was at Glenfield College on Auckland's North Shore, a state school, it was found that a birth defect had made his spine vulnerable and so at the age of 13 he stopped playing rugby. When he moved school across the bridge to the Kristen A-School, a private school in Albany he took up refereeing and joined the North Harbour Rugby Referees' Association. That was in 1988.
There was at the time an established New Zealand referee also called Steve Walsh, a tall man whose nickname was Skylab. As a result the younger Steven Walsh was called Junior. Eventually junior's achievements would fly higher than Skylab's.
His progress was rapid and in 1992 he became the youngest ever referee to referee a provincial rugby match in New Zealand. In 1997, at the age of 25, he refereed his first Super Rugby match and the next year he refereed his first Test, not an easy one – Argentina vs France. In 1998, too, he stopped selling goods and became a full-time referee.
There were three potholes in Walsh's refereeing road. At the World Cup in 2003 he was the official controlling the coming and going of players when England played Samoa. During the match, in which England at one stage had 16 players on the field, Walsh and Dave Reddin, an England fitness official, had angry words and Walsh, who may well have been the one to tell the truth, was suspended for three days, which meant he missed a match. But he recovered to referee the quarterfinal between Australia and Scotland.
In 2005 the B&I Lions toured New Zealand and Walsh was an assistant referee when they played Taranaki. He called a knock-on against the Lion which led to a verbal argument between him and the Lions' wing, Shane Horgan. As a result Walsh was suspended for four months. Strike 2.
In 2009, at the Super Rugby referees' course in Sydney, Walsh was found to have been drunk at an early-morning meeting and sent home. Strike 3, and he was out.
No longer a referee he had negotiations with the Australian Rugby Union and emigrated to Australia in 2009. In 2010 he was back in Super Rugby, now as an Australian referee and back on the IRB's merit panel of referees. His career was back on track.
He has now refereed 111 Super Rugby matches, passing Jonathan Kaplan's record of 107, and he has refereed 60 Test matches.
On the announcement of his retirement, Steve Walsh said: “I have lived my dream and I am truly grateful for every experience that I have had in rugby. It’s been an incredible journey.
“I would be doing all of the key stakeholders in the game – from officials to the players to the fans – an injustice if I was unable to 100 per cent channel my energies and devote my full attention towards refereeing Super Rugby and Test Matches. I would not want my new focus to impact the integrity of the competitions I am involved in.
“I will be forever indebted to Australian Rugby for including me so openly following a difficult period for me personally. I would also like to acknowledge my time with New Zealand Rugby. Their decision to end my contract in 2009 was challenging, but was ultimately the best thing has ever happened in my life. It made me confront who I was and how I carried myself.”
Steve Reid Walsh was born on 28 March 1972. On the inside of his left arm he has tattooed: "He who controls himself, controls the game." It may mean more than just refereeing rugby.