First Class : IRFU referees Andrew Brace, Joy Neville and John Lacey set off for France last weekend, where the trio officiated in the Montpelier versus Exeter Chiefs Champions Cup tie
JOY Neville’s meteoric rise as a rugby referee continues this Saturday when the Limerick woman takes charge of the Conference 2 North men’s international between Norway and Denmark in Oslo.
Neville joins Spanish referee Alhambra Nievas in becoming the first women to take charge of a men’s XV-a-side international fixtures.
A Grand Slam winner with the Ireland women’s side in 2013, Neville has been a referee for just three years.
Joy Neville told Leader Sport: "It is a great step forward for both myself and Alhambra (Nievas) who took charge of the Finland game with Norway earlier this month.
"I have been blown away by all the well wishers and kind messages. At the end of the day, we have to go out there, do a job and hopefully create more pathways for other females to come through and officiate in the middle, in international men's matches.
”The game is on this Saturday at 2pm in Oslo. I have never been to Oslo before, so looking forward to it.
"If you asked me when I first started this venture whether I would achieve half what I have managed to date, I would have said, 'not a hope.' Look, I am taking it one step at a time. Whatever opportunities have been thrown my way I have concentrated on that solely and hopefully do myself my justice and hopefully more opportunities will be provided.”
Neville’s profile as a referee will grow even further next month when she is assistant referee for France’s autumn international fixture with Japan in Paris.
Just last week it was announced that Neville is one of seven referees to be awarded professional contracts by the IRFU.
The referees, who also include locally-based officials John Lacey, George Clancy and Andy Brace, will receive dedicated coaching, analysis and support for their strength and conditioning as well as nutritional needs.
Joy Neville had combined the role of rugby development officer at LIT with that of a referee.
"Going full-time will make a massive difference. At the end of the day, all of us had our full-time jobs. What was happening was you were splitting your time between your job and your refereeing career as well. It is a very professional outlook.
”After match you have to be extremely critical of your performance and analyse it to a 'T'. That takes time. Obviously there's the training too to be as fit as the players that are running around. You have to be up with the play.
"It is nice to be able to concentrate on the job in hand rather than have to juggle both. Travel is huge. You are abroad a huge amount of time. It's full on.
"I thoroughly enjoyed working in LIT and with the people who were involved in the Sports Office.”
Neville’s hectic schedule in recent weeks has seen her travel to Swansea two weekends ago, fly to Montpellier in France last weekend, Oslo in Norway this weekend and back to Cardiff in Wales on the first weekend in November.
Joy will be an assistant referee for the Barbarians v Tonga game at Thomond Park on Friday, November 10.
"The travel is part and parcel of the job ,” she says.
2017 Women’s World Cup final referee Neville recalled how a telephone call helped her achieve one of her goals of taking charge of an AIL game.
Neville said: "When I first started I rang someone high up in rugby circles and asked them if in their opinion if they could ever see a female referee in a Division 1A in the men's Ulster Bank League and he said; 'Joy, not in my life time', so I was committed to achieving that goal. I achieved it last year which I was delighted about it.
"Looking forward, it is always important to have a goal. I am on the PRO14 development squad and my next goal for me is to be in the middle for a PRO14 game.
"It is a big step from being on the line for an international Tier 1 fixture to being in the middle for a PRO14 fixture. I am not at all naive about it, but I think it would be a massive responsibility to be in the middle for that game. Fingers crossed, keep the head down, do the work and hopefully it can happen.
"It is not about being a male or a female. It is not about the gender. It is just a job at hand. The major difference between the pro game is the speed of it If I am accurate in my calls, if I am prepared and know my law, work hard on my fitness and speed and am keeping up with the pro lads, it is about making the right calls.
"I never did want to be treated any different to that of my male counterparts. I am not a female in a male environment in rugby.
"I started out with the MAR (Munster Association of Referees). Refereeing is a massive opportunity for people to see the world and to meet new people. There is a great community spirit.
"Every Tuesday there is a meeting in the Castletroy Park Hotel where the MAR meet up and we go through video clips from games and discussion points. If anyone is interested in refereeing go to www.mar.ie. It is work a look.”