Sara Cox Interview: 'I don't see myself as a trailblazer - It is more about me doing the best job I can'

Sara Cox is back in the middle this weekend, taking charge of Ireland against Wales in the Women's Six Nations
©Sean Alabaster/Gloucester-Hartpury

“I feel like rugby has moved exponentially in the last five years and I've watched that journey,” Sara Cox MBE tells TRU.

“I feel very proud to have been a part of that journey and see how that's moved along, see how that's grown and hopefully to see where it ends up.”

One of the country's leading referees is on her way to Cardiff to run touch for Wales’ opening Guinness Women’s Six Nations match against Scotland.

It signals the start of yet another tournament that Cox - the world’s first professional female rugby referee - will be involved in and as the women’s game continues to grow, the 34-year-old remains a constant.

She earned her first contract with the Rugby Football Union in 2016 and has since achieved a number of sporting firsts, including becoming the first female referee to officiate a men’s Premiership match back in 2021.

With the Six Nations resuming on Saturday, Cox will be heading to Cork to take charge of Ireland’s meeting with Wales but what made her want to become a referee in the first place?

“What made me want to become a referee? That's a very good question!” she laughs. “For me, I was involved as a player and went through a lot of the systems that are now still in place.

“I got through to regionals and international trials but never quite made it so I sort of looked at switching over to a different avenue, a different way of sort of still being involved in the game and here I am now, still refereeing 10/15 years later. It's been a nice journey, it's been a good journey and one that I look back on now and think I'm glad that I did.”

In a time where officials have perhaps been in the headlines for negative reasons - whether it be online abuse they have received or coming under fire for a decision or mistake they have made - it is refreshing to hear Cox reflect on her journey so positively.

The opportunities female officials are continuing to get across the game seem to be increasing with the likes of Cox’s colleague Holly Wood - who took charge of her first international Test match last year - providing a perfect example.

“There's quite a few of them to be fair,” Cox, who has officiated at three Women’s Rugby World Cups, adds.

“You see Hollie Davidson pioneering the way in what she’s doing in the men's Six Nations [becoming the first female assistant referee in the competition back in February] and running touch which is a massive step forward for female officiating.

“What Joy Neville has done, going to the World Cup and again pioneering the way for more females to step into that position is amazing. Then rolling back a little bit into my career around getting the opportunity to referee, being the first female to referee in the Premiership is class. There's definitely an opportunity for that role now and there are people out there who are taking that and running with it."

Cox's colleague, Neville, will take charge of her 27th and final Test on Saturday when France face Italy in the Six Nations, with both being a source of inspiration for many.

So does Cox see herself as a trailblazer in the women's game? Her answer may come as a surprise to some.

“I guess no in some respects, I don't see myself as a trailblazer. I see myself as someone that has worked hard to do a job that I guess not many people get the opportunity to do.

“Hopefully when I retire and I get a bit older and sit in front of the grandkids and explain to them what I used to do, it might sink in a little bit but at the moment, it's more about me doing my job and doing the best that I can for the job. It's about me doing the best for me and my family, really.”

Many may argue with Cox’s point that she doesn’t see herself as a trailblazer especially after she visited Windsor Castle at the beginning of the year to collect her MBE from The Princess Royal for her services to rugby union.

Cox’s dedication to her craft is unwavering and her reflections on that proud moment for her and her family speak volumes: “I have to be reminded I have one sometimes! I forget!” she chuckles.

“It's really cool and it was an amazing experience,” she continues. “I guess in reality it's sort of knowing that some of that hard work has paid off and know that some of the tougher times and some of the times I did want to give up have started to pay off a little bit.

“The recognition that I now know can sort of spread to the wider world and wider rugby community and hopefully it can get more people involved. That makes me happy.”

As selfless as Cox comes across, many young boys and girls will continue to be inspired by the most capped female referee and maybe one day, someone will overtake her milestone.

For now though, people can continue to enjoy watching her success as she paves the way for referees of the future.