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Ireland at the 2019 Rugby World Cup

Joy Neville – From Women’s World Cup Player To Referee

Joy Neville – From Women’s World Cup Player To Referee

Having previously appeared as a player for Ireland at the 2006 and 2010 tournaments, Joy Neville will make a return to the Women’s Rugby World Cup stage in August. She spoke to Daire Walsh in the first part of a special #WRWC2017 interview.

Joy Neville hung up her boots and scrum cap in 2013 following Ireland’s historic Grand Slam success, but she will grace another Women’s Rugby World Cup in less than two months’ time – this time as one of the tournament’s referees.

The Limerick native, who won 70 caps in the Irish back row and also captained her country, has been selected by World Rugby as one of the match officials for the eagerly-awaited Women’s RWC which takes place in Dublin and Belfast from August 9 to 26.

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Since bringing her playing career to an end, Neville has made rapid progress as an IRFU referee – gaining recognition as the first female referee in Ulster Bank League Division 1A and also working as an assistant referee in the GUINNESS PRO12 and European Challenge Cup – and she is extremely excited about this latest challenge.

“It’s great. I find it extremely exciting, and I suppose I feel a massive sense of achievement. The fact that I’ve played in two World Cups, and now I get to referee in one. I’m extremely excited about it, I’m excited about the challenge,” said the 33-year-old, who works as a Rugby Development Officer at LIT.

“I’m looking forward to being involved in it, but in a different capacity to what I’m used to. But I suppose I’ve had a few years now to get used to going over to the ‘dark side’, so it’s all good!”

Tom Tierney’s Ireland squad recently stepped up their World Cup preparations with two trial matches against Japan in UCD, and it was Neville who acted as referee for both games. So what is it like to officiate with some of your former team-mates on the pitch?

She admitted: “I found that very difficult at the start actually, because there’s a fine line between being extremely strict as a referee and towards your friend. But then, you don’t want to be biased, and then you might end up trying too hard not to be biased that you turn it the other way around.

“I think with more experience, you have a better understanding of what is expected of you. What you expect of yourself, and you don’t care about what way you come across. Because at the end of the day, it’s a job you’re doing.”

The former Ireland number 8 made history last October during the Challenge Cup tie between Bath and Bristol, as she became the first female assistant referee to officiate in a European rugby match. It is occasions like that which makes her appreciate the opportunities that have come along the way, and she acknowledges that it would not be possible without the support she receives from the IRFU.

“If you’d turned around to me three years ago, and told me that I would have got to where I have got to this day, I wouldn’t have believed you to be honest,” she added, reflecting on a burgeoning refereeing career that began with an Under-15 schools friendly in late 2013.

“Myself and the likes of Helen O’Reilly, who for many years set the pathways for females to officiate in PRO12, and for females on international panels. Hats off to the IRFU, compared to other unions that haven’t really given other female officials half the opportunities that they (the IRFU) have for myself and Helen. It’s an honour.”

Interested in becoming a referee? The IRFU Referee Department is here to help. Click here for further details.

For more on the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup, visit the tournament website – www.rwcwomens.com. Buy your match tickets for #WRWC2017 now on www.ticketmaster.co.uk/wrwc2017 and www.ticketmaster.ie/wrwc2017. #BringIt

Part 2 of the Joy Neville interview will be published on Wednesday. We look back on her WRWC experiences as a player, her retirement from the game, and how ‘amazing’ it will be for the girls in green to play a World Cup on home soil.