Leading rugby referee Joy Neville admits she is something of poacher turned gamekeeper when it comes to officiating the world’s top players.
A Grand Slam winner with Ireland in 2013, Neville has since gone on to shatter every glass ceiling she has encountered on route to become a leading official in the men’s game.
And she says that experience of occasionally crossing the line on international duty has informed how she deals with today’s players.
“We had an analyst with Ireland back in the day — a big reason why we won the Grand Slam as far as I was concerned.
“He would come in and tell us, ‘you got away with these penalties’. Joy, you could have been penalised here, you could have been penalised there. You were offside there. In every section, it was Joy.
“All the girls used to slag me that I went onto referee, that this is ridiculous. But I suppose I knew the game well and I knew how to manipulate the referee to some degree.
“But 100%, now I would have been able to spot (my transgressions) back in the day.
“Having that experience at that level, it’s definitely aided my refereeing, knowing what the players want to achieve.
“The hardest part of refereeing is man-management. It’s not one approach. It’s being able to understand the best approach with people to get the best outcome. That comes with time and making mistakes and experience.”
Neville admits she only decided to become a referee when a close friend she trusted told her a woman would never ref at the top level of the men’s game in his lifetime.
“I finished our conversation, picked up the phone and said ‘I am in’.”
…. to be continued
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