- Cox becomes the first female to referee Championship game
- She is one of the RFU's centrally contracted referees
“It was a case of let’s treat this like any other rugby game and go in and referee what’s in front of you.”
While the Beast from the East and Storm Emma were causing havoc across the British Isles, on Sunday history was made in the Greene King IPA Championship as Sara Cox became the first female to referee a second tier domestic game.
The 27-year-old, one of 10 centrally contracted referees by the RFU, only got the call two days before Cornish Pirates against Doncaster Knights, saying that she would be taking charge of the fixture.
It was an enthralling game as the Pirates secured an 80th minute winning try, but Cox was fully focused on her performance throughout to take in the occasion.
“I didn’t really know what to expect being the first time at that level," she said. "I didn’t really pay too much attention to the speed, I was more concentrating on the job at hand to be honest.
“Each game is different. Sometimes you can have a university game that could be the quickest game you’ve been involved in or you can have a National One game that is a little bit slower to what you thought it was going to be.
“It was really good fun, I really enjoyed it. There was a little bit of emotion there, because of what happened at Doncaster last month, but both sets of teams were fantastic and they were great to work with and they played some quality rugby."
Since deciding that refereeing was the profession for her in rugby at the age of 17, Cox has worked up quite the CV.
As well as becoming the first female referee to take charge of a National One game, she was has travelled around the world to referee at the Women's Rugby World Cup, sevens at the Rio Olympics and later this year will be refereeing at the Commonwealth Games in Australia and the Rugby World Cup Sevens in USA.
With Irish referee Joy Neville making history by officiating in the Pro 14 for the first time this season, does Cox think a referee's gender will soon become irrelevant?
“I don’t think it’s about normality," she added.
"I think it’s about the fact that females in sport are growing anyway across sport, not just within rugby, so, like myself and Joy, we’re doing what we love doing so it’s more about that and being a part of the game that we love rather than it being gender specific.
“If a guy looks up to me and thinks ‘she’s doing some amazing things, I’d love to do what she’s doing’ then that’s fantastic, the same with a female. It’s about doing that across the board and inspiring young people to be involved."
To the whistle
It could have been a different story for Cox, who was a talented player in her youth reaching England U21 trials during her later teenage years, where she played alongside Red Roses and England Women Sevens star Emily Scarratt.
"I definitely remember her as she burnt me on the wing once," joked Cox.
Growing up, she had stints with Exeter, Saracens, Collumpton and Plymouth Albion, as well as representing Devon, describing herself as a winger who occasionally played at fly half or full back. “Looking back on it now I think refereeing was the best choice."
However, after suffering an injury at 17 she choose the whistle over playing for her rugby fix.
“I decided I wasn’t enjoying it anymore and it wasn’t for me.
“For me it was a choice I wanted to make as I still wanted to stay within rugby, coaching wasn’t an avenue that I thought I could do as I was so young and it didn’t interest me too much, so I thought I might as well have a go at the refereeing side of things.
“I could still be running around and still be involved heavily in the game and here I am 10 years later still enjoying it, so I’m quite pleased with that.
“Looking back on it now I think refereeing was the best choice as I don’t think I would’ve got to the Olympics or the Commonwealth Games as a player.
“If I end up at more events and big ones like that in the future then fantastic, if I don’t then I’ve put all my effort in and we can leave it there.”
Photo credit to Brian Tempest.