Walsh should have been sacked

MARK KEOHANE writes Steve Walsh should have been given the chop, even if just for a few games, for charging into Conrad Smith.

If a player had lost his cool, as Walsh did, and made contact with a referee he would have been fronting a disciplinary and all sorts of condemnation would accompany the appearance.

Walsh is again becoming a law unto himself and his ego is again getting the better of him.

The Australian-based Kiwi, who in Justin Marshall’s autobiography, admitted a rugby field wasn’t big enough to accommodate the egos of Marshall and himself and further made the admission that he couldn’t stand the sight of Marshall’s face and would penalise the Crusaders just because Marshall irritated him, has a controversial history with the whistle.

He was sacked previously because of his battle with booze and he returned to the game humbled and rejuvenated.

His performance in the Canes game was more of the old Walsh. His communication skills were lacking, he was larger than the players, he was No 1 and he was very anti the Canes in his approach.

The contact with Smith, when the Canes skipper queried a penalty, warranted sanction. It looked ugly and it looked malicious. Walsh was angry and lost the plot.

Smith has shown his class is being diplomatic and brushing off the incident, but Walsh erred in making the wrong call on a few occasions in a frantic final five minutes and it had a bearing on the outcome of the match.

Referee boss Lyndon Bray concedes Walsh got it wrong and Smith was right to query Walsh, and he further concedes Walsh’s performance wasn’t up to standard in the final few minutes. But, despite this, he told the Fairfax Media reporters the overall review assessment for Walsh was 93 percent and that the official reviewers were happy with the job done.

It is nothing short of disgraceful.

The Hurricanes lodged an official complaint and Bray said he and Canes coach Mark Hammett had agreed to disagree.

Bray said Walsh had made ‘two or three’ incorrect calls against the Hurricanes but defended Walsh’s overall performance.

‘Mark feels Steve didn’t have a very good day. My argument to that was I don’t think it was too bad, but I absolutely support that at a critical part of the game we got a couple wrong,’ said Bray.

Given this Walsh should have been stood down, even if just for a match or two.

‘I can understand that frustration, but across the game I don’t think there’s much argument other than Steve had a pretty good day generally. What Mark talked about really came down to a small number of decisions in the second half which really had an impact on the Hurricanes. Fair cop.

‘I think Steve would agree with Mark he had two or three calls in the last quarter that weren’t as accurate as he’d like, including the penalty on the goal line which resulted in the back chat. So that all got a bit ugly because we agree the decision was wrong.’

Bray further defended Walsh’s clash with Smith as accidental and not malicious. You decide.

‘He was [caught in the moment]. He was in decision-making mode. It’s just one of those things,’ said Bray. “One of Steve’s strengths is that he’s a strong character on the field and I think that’s pretty important for a referee. On Friday night both the players and the referee got a little frustrated.

‘He had a couple of errors build up and they went against the Hurricanes at key moments and that’s where you can understand Mark’s frustrations.’

Walsh’s reward for getting it wrong in the crucial time of the game was to fly to London to referee a Six Nations international this weekend and he will resume business in Super Rugby on his return.

Referee accountability is an area that continues to be glossed over in all competitions. The standard of refereeing in the early part of the competition has been inconsistent, the application of the five second use it law at ruck time has been so subjectively applied, depending on the referee, that it is a farce and certain referees allow teams to slow the ball down with repeated calls of ‘release release’ by which time the damage has been done to the attacking side.

Referee interpretation still influences too much of the play, as does the time of the match when the offending team transgressors. Teams commit professional fouls on their goalline in the first 20 minutes and never face a yellow card, but the same transgression is always punished with a yellow or red card if occurring in the last five or 10 minutes of a match.

Referees, like players, are paid professionals. They need to be held accountable when getting it wrong and there needs to be more sanction and scrutiny on those who allow the play to be slowed down by repeated cautions but rarely with consequence. Referees will tell you they caution to get flow but if they penalised immediately and set a standard that slowing down the ball won’t be tolerated they’d then get the flow in a game.

Generally there is too much back slapping within the referee fraternity and while it is a thankless task to be a referee let’s not forget these guys chose it as a profession, and if they want to be treated like professionals they must equally be judged as professionals.

Walsh betrayed the professionalism of an international referee in the way he lost it with Smith and lost it with the Canes. There had to be a consequence to that poor form. Instead there is only reward. It is why nothing will change.