Rugby: Alcohol linked to Walsh's retirement

The New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) wasn't prepared to help Steve Walsh with his on-going drinking problems, the long-serving referee said as he quit the game.

Walsh and the NZRU today issued a joint statement announcing his retirement from refereeing.

Walsh told RadioSport he had approached the NZRU for help, "but they weren't prepared to buy into that type of counselling and help".

"I was looking for a last chance, and whether they didn't believe I could do that, I'm not sure. But in the end, they weren't prepared to go down that route," Walsh said.

NZRU general manager of professional rugby Neil Sorenson said the union had offered Walsh plenty of support.

Walsh confirmed he had been in an incident involving alcohol at a Sanzar conference in Sydney in December.

He went out with friends the night before the last day of the three-day conference, and "pretty much drank through the night", arriving for the 9am start still under the influence.

"Pretty much as a consequence of that inquiry and me owning up to my mistakes, the rugby union weren't prepared to give me another chance and the upshot is I've finished refereeing in New Zealand," Walsh said.

Sorenson told RadioSport he had been working with Walsh for the last six to eight months.

"Steve would have received more support from us than any player or administrator that we've ever supported over the last couple of years. That's undeniable and absolutely the honest truth," he said.

Sorenson said the NZRU would continue to support Walsh, until at least the end of this year.

"And at the end of this year we'll be sitting down with him and seeing what we can do going forward."

Walsh said he had struggled with a number of issues in his personal life, and had found he used drink to "relieve those pressures".

The NZRU had offered him support around those other issues, he said.

Walsh realised he had a problem with drinking halfway through last year, and went a community-based alcohol advisory service.

He had thought he was on the right path.

"I take personal responsibility for what I did. It was totally unacceptable but I'm continuing to get help."

Walsh, who refereed his first test match in June 1998, was New Zealand's most experienced international referee.

He had extensive experience at domestic, Super 14 and international level, having refereed in both Six Nations and Tri Nations tests.

He was appointed to the last two Rugby World Cup tournaments.

Sorensen today paid tribute to Walsh for his decision to step down from refereeing and for his record.

"Steve has been an outstanding referee and has officiated some of the biggest matches in world rugby, demonstrating his talent and representing New Zealand on the international stage.At his best, he was a truly world-class referee."

Walsh made his national referee squad debut in 1996 and in total refereed 212 first class games, including 35 tests.

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