Joy Neville ’looking forward to the challenge’ of refereeing men’s international rugby match

Former Ireland Rugby player, Joy Neville, will become one of the first two women to referee a men’s international match later this month.

Earlier this year, she presided over the final of the Women’s Rugby World Cup in Belfast and will follow this by refereeing Norway v Denmark on October 28th.

"I’m thoroughly looking forward to the occasion and to the challenge," she told RTÉ Radio One’s Today with Sean O’Rourke.

She hopes that the development will open the door to other women.

Joy retired after 11 years of rugby and said initially she had no intention of refereeing. 

"After winning the grand slam, I wanted to spend time with my family, my priorities had changed. I was ready for a new chapter," she said.

"I didn’t even contemplate for one second about referring until I got a phone call from David McHugh, the IRFU referee manager at the time and he posed the question would I be interested," she said.

"I said absolutely not. I committed 11 wonderful years and I needed time for my family. Come back to me in nine months when I’m sure I’m ready for another challenge," she said.

She said she contacted a "high-up personality" known in rugby circles to ask for his opinion on the possibility of female referees.

"I asked him, in his opinion, could he ever see a female referee in the All-Ireland Ulster Bank Men’s League, the top division. He said ’Joy, not in my lifetime’," she said.

"I picked up the phone to David McHugh and said: ’I’m in’," she added.

She said the change from player to the referee was something she struggled with initially.

"I’m my own worst critic. For the first year, I did not enjoy it whatsoever and I was close to hanging up the boots," she said.

She felt she wasn’t up to the standard of international referees she had seen but she started to enjoy it more as she got more experience.

She recalled an incident when she was refereeing the British and Irish Cup in Doncaster and went into one of the changing rooms to talk to one of the teams

"One player was laughing in the corner as I was speaking. These are there little things you have to deal with and I did. I said: ’Do you find something funny?’.He went as red as a strawberry and all the lads started laughing at him," she said.

"On another occasion, an older man came up to me and said: ’Are you here to referee the 3rds?’ And I said: ’No, I’m here to referee the 1sts’," she said.

She said while there has been some abuse from the sidelines she does not "want any special treatment".

"You have that everywhere no matter who is in the middle," she said.

She said her wife was the main drive in her new career.

"She saw something in me that I probably didn’t see. I probably wouldn’t be here unless Simona pushed me," she said.

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