March 20, 2015 / 12:27 AM / in 3 years

Rugby: High profile referee Walsh hangs up his whistle

SYDNEY (Reuters) - New Zealand referee Steve Walsh, one of the best-known match officials in world rugby, has decided to call time on his career just a few months before the World Cup, the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) said on Friday.

Referee Steve Walsh signals with his tattoo visible during the international rugby union match between England and South Africa at Twickenham in London November 15, 2014. REUTERS/Philip Brown

Walsh, who officiated at four World Cups and oversaw 60 tests making him one of the game’s most experienced referees, said he had decided to pursue business interests.

“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,” he said in a statement.“I would be doing all of the key stakeholders in the game an injustice if I was unable to 100 percent channel my energies and devote my full attention toward refereeing Super Rugby and test matches.”

Always sound on the rules, an excellent communicator and a firm manager of an increasingly complicated game, the 43-year-old’s manner sometimes made him a controversial figure.

He was twice suspended for verbally abusing players who challenged his decisions, while critics throughout his career accused him of showmanship and wanting to be the center of attention.

Walsh switched allegiance to Australia in 2009 after a series of drink-related incidents led to him being sacked by the New Zealand Rugby Union.

“I will be forever indebted to Australian Rugby for including me so openly following a difficult period for me personally,” Walsh added.

”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.”

Walsh would be a big loss to the international panel of top officials, World Rugby referee’s boss Joel Jutge said.

“Never afraid to make the tough decisions, Steve has a great feel for the game,” he added.

“He has successfully taken charge of some huge matches in both hemispheres and his talents were recognized when he was appointed to the rugby World Cup 2007 second semi-final between South Africa and Argentina in Paris.”

Editing by Peter Rutherford

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