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English rugby reacts as Sara Cox makes history

By Paul Smith
Sara Cox

Sara Cox is no stranger to making history during her remarkable rise through the rugby refereeing ranks.


Her latest and probably highest-profile step, came on Saturday afternoon at the Twickenham Stoop where she became the first woman to referee a Gallagher Premiership clash.

And Cox has since told BBC Radio 5 Live about her experience.

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Max’s book club – Joe Marler
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Max’s book club – Joe Marler

“I wasn’t really prepared for what was about to happen – the reaction from people,” Cox said.

“It is something I don’t think I will ever replicate.”

Cox said it was “a good day in the office” since there has since been little post-match debate about her decisions.

She jokingly added that players were confused about how to replace the term ‘sir’ when speaking to her.


“I had a couple of them correct themselves,” she commented.

“They said sir, then ‘oh, hang on…Ref.’

“It doesn’t bother me. I’m still happy for someone to open a line of communication with a respectful word at the start; it’s not about gender for me.”

Both clubs presented her with a signed shirt following the match while the wider rugby world has reacted extremely positively to her Premiership debut.


Harlequins edged a thrilling nine-try contest 35-29 and Cox – whose debut was delayed from June when Covid caused Gloucester’s trip to Sixways to be cancelled – impressed with a calm display which included the award of a yellow card to Warriors’ winger Noah Heward for an aerial challenge on Tyrone Green.

Cox’s rise to the English club game’s elite level began in 2016 when she became the first female referee to be centrally contracted by the RFU and the world’s first professional female rugby referee.

In the same year, after taking charge of the Women’s Premiership final between Richmond and Saracens, the Devon-based whistler appeared in the Rio Olympics’ sevens competition.

In February 2017, Cox became the first female to appear in National One – English rugby’s third tier -before officiating at the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup in Ireland.

More history followed in March 2018 when Cox became the first woman to referee a RFU Championship match – Cornish Pirates versus Doncaster Knights.

After appearing at the rugby sevens event at the 2018 Commonwealth Games Cox’s next step up the domestic ladder in November 2018 saw her become the first female to control a match between two top flight teams, when Wasps hosted Northampton in the Premiership Rugby Cup.

Her men’s rugby international debut came in the same month when she ran the line when Hong Kong met Germany, and between Kenya and Germany.

She then officiated a women’s international match between France and New Zealand before in August 2020 becoming the first women to officiate in the Gallagher Premiership when she was one of Wayne Barnes’ assistants for Bath against Wasps.

Cox received plenty of support from some prominent names.

These included Exeter Chief Dean Mumm whose message read: “Great to see, well done!”

And a Premiership football ref:

And a Six Nations presenter



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