Referee sacked ahead of Grand Slam clash

By Peter Bills
Wednesday 18 March 2009 16:12

New Zealand referee Steve Walsh, who was due to handle Ireland's Grand Slam match in Cardiff on Saturday, will have his contract terminated this week, it is understood.

The demise of one of world rugby’s top officials is expected to be confirmed within the next 72 hours.

Walsh has fallen foul of the ‘three strikes and you’re out’ disciplinary rule that is used to monitor all match officials. The Kiwi official has been involved in three incidents in recent years culminating in a SANZAR meeting, which represent the tri-nations rugby unions, in Sydney last year.

One official who insisted on anonymity said “They have run out of patience with Steve. He is a walking time bomb and looks as though he has thrown it all away. The sad thing is, he doesn’t appear to have anything much but refereeing in his life. It seems crazy he’s just thrown it away.”

Walsh has not officiated in Super 14 matches this season for what was originally called “personal employment” reasons. Initially, he was expected to return to refereeing in the later rounds of this season’s competition and he was named to take charge of this Saturday's Wales v Ireland fixture. But that has proved illusory and now Walsh’s contract will be terminated.

At the 2003 Rugby World Cup, he was suspended for three days for inappropriate behaviour towards the England team after a row on the touchline with England’s fitness coach Dave Reddin. His suspension cost him one match.

But then in 2005, Walsh was again in trouble. This time he copped a four-month suspension for verbally abusing the Lions’ Irish wing Shane Horgan during a Lions tour match in New Zealand.

So Walsh’s career attached to New Zealand rugby appears to be over but his international refereeing career might not be. It is believed he now intends to go to Japan and referee where his skills are said to be badly needed.

If all goes well, within 12 months, he could be nominated for the IRB’s elite list as an official representing the Japanese Rugby Union.

One thing is for sure. World rugby is desperately short of top notch officials (South Africa excepted) and a fit and focused Steve Walsh could well force his way back in.

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