Almost 12 months ago I suggested that Steve Walsh was a referee who let his personality get in the way of his impartiality. Some of you were outraged by such a suggestion. Yet here we go again. Walsh again blew away the Hurricanes last weekend and is now set to referee the deciding matches of the Six Nations.
This weekend he referees Ireland v France and next weekend he takes charge of Wales v England. The only people happy about this will be the Super 15 teams and coaches, because yet again Walsh leaves the Southern Hemisphere in a cloud of controversy.
Last weekend Walsh made a couple of bad calls that cost the Hurricanes the match against the Reds. He also shoved the Canes captain Conrad Smith – who does throw his arms in the air rather too much – out of the way.
The reaction of Lyndon Bray, the SANZAR refs boss, to these incidents was astonishing. He said that Walsh got decisions wrong, thereby undermining one of his top officials, but said that the push was an accident.
“It’s just one of those things that happens on a rugby field,” said Bray, “accidental contact between the two, because they’re both getting into exactly the same spot at the same time.”
This last statement is nonsense. The Hurricanes leadership did the right thing by downplaying the incident, but Bray should have taken action. The push was forceful enough to be dismissive. Smith certainly knew he couldn’t react in the same way.
What happens if refs start shoving players down at your club this weekend. At certain places there would be a riot. Players in all sports are rightly not allowed to touch the ref, but the same standards should apply the other way round. Instead Bray has effectively sanctioned the use of physical force.
And so Walsh’s list of misdemeanours grows. In 2003 he was suspended after an altercation with England’s fitness coach Dave Reddin. In 2005 he verbally abused Lions winger Shane Horgan. In 2010 Matt Giteau was fined Aus$5,000 after wondering what the point was in turning up if Walsh was again put in charge of a Brumbies game. Incidentally, Bray pre-empted that fine, commenting ahead of the disciplinary hearing that it would be ‘nice’ if Giteau were suspended.
And now this latest storm.
It is clear that refs should not be put in charge of other refs. It is like putting the cops in charge of police enquiries. They look after their own. Rugby should move toward a far more independent system of review, like they have in cricket with the match referee.
It is also clear that Walsh should not have been put in charge of these two matches at the sharp end of the Six Nations. One of them was always going to be a decider. And it would be ‘nice’ if the players took that decision rather than the ref.