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Steve Walsh finds redemption in Super Rugby final

Published: 4:24PM Thursday August 02, 2012 Source: ONE Sport

Controversial rugby referee Steve Walsh has been selected to control Saturday night's Super Rugby final between the Chiefs and the Sharks in Hamilton.

The occasion marks his second such appointment after overseeing the 2007 final between the Bulls and Sharks, and his return to the pinnacle of his profession caps a tumultuous return to the international rugby scene.

Having refereed in New Zealand since he was 16-years-old, Walsh rose to become one of the country's premier match officials before his career spiraled downwards in spectacular fashion when the New Zealand Rugby Union terminated his contract in April 2009 following a range of drinking-related incidents.

Today he said: "It hasn't really sunk in, but obviously I am pleased, you always want to be recognised for strong performances. I suppose it is always nice that people appreciate the work you put out there."

With the Chiefs and Sharks working furiously behind the scenes with their match analysis, Walsh said at this stage of the campaign he didn't need to examine the teams in too much detail.

"At the beginning of the year yes, and looking back at what has happened throughout the season, I've done a lot of video review of teams, myself, and other referees," Walsh said.

"Now that the season is progressing, I have a firm picture of what I want to see, and what is not acceptable, and I am at the stage that I have control.

"In this game I'm not worried about the teams, I know what is expected.

"My gut feeling, having seen the teams, as well as refereeing the Sharks last week, is that both teams have good intent, and it makes it a lot easier as there isn't negativity out there."

The Super Rugby Final will be policed like any other match, with Walsh making it clear there will be no alteration to his game for such a big occasion.

"No change," Walsh said. "Player attitude will dictate the game. We all hope that I can set the game and we are away, and give the players your understanding of what is acceptable, so they can make the play.

"If player attitude isn't right, then you need to be fair to the other team, but for the Super Rugby Final, I'm not concerned about this as the Chiefs and Sharks are positive teams."

Today's announcement is a complete reversal of where he was three years ago. The final straw had come in December 2009 after Walsh had embarked on an all-night drinking binge while in Sydney for a SANZAR referees' conference and arrived for the following day's meeting still under the influence.

Walsh was already seeking independent counseling for his alcohol issues after privately realising the extent of his problem but the rugby union denied him a final chance and showed him the door.

Walsh headed to Sydney to rebuild his life and career, refereeing club football and working as a courier and labourer, before he was able to resurrect his position in the Super Rugby competition in February 2010 as one of the Australian conference's officials.

Walsh said that the trick to his continued improvement this year was similar to lessons he used in life.

"It is continuous work figuring out what your strengths and weaknesses are and working on those, and for me especially it has been like that for the last couple of years," he said.

Like all within the rugby community, Walsh has a vision of how the game should be played, but also knows he has to do what was required.

"We would all love it to be an open, flowing, entertaining and enthralling match," Walsh said. "But I am also prepared to knuckle down if I need to, if it is a grind it is a grind, I can only work with what the teams put in front of me."

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