Ireland's Joy Neville will continue the recent history-making trajectory of female rugby referees next month when she becomes the first woman to referee a European professional club fixture.

The former Ireland international back row, who won 70 caps for her country including a Six Nations Grand Slam in 2013, will go into the record books when she takes charge of the Challenge Cup, round four fixture between Bordeaux-Bègles and Enisei-STM on December 15.

This follows Spaniard Alhambra Nievas becoming the first female referee to take charge of a men's international in Europe when she officiated Finland's Test against Norway in the Conference 2 division of Rugby Europe on October 14. She was swiftly followed by Neville, who was in the middle for Norway versus Denmark on October 28.

Former Black Fern Becca Mahoney became New Zealand's first female to referee a first-class men's rugby match when she officiated at Manawatu senior A match in March.


Nievas and England's Sara Cox, the first female referee to be handed a full-time contract from the Rugby Football Union are also in the EPCR's match official panel. Cox trains alongside top male referees such as Wayne Barnes and JP Doyle.

Alhambra Nievas became the first female referee to take charge of a men's international in Europe.

Last month it was announced that Neville, who has only been refereeing for three years would join Nievas and Cox as a full-time professional referee, leaving her day job as a rugby development officer at the Limerick Institute of Technology.

Neville has already been appointed as an assistant referee at Champions Cup, Challenge Cup, Continental Shield levels and has regularly been appointed as assistant referee at Guinness Pro14 fixtures. She also took charge of the Women's Rugby World Cup final between New Zealand and England in August.

Due to her former Test rugby career, Neville is regarded as having an excellent sense of empathy with players when officiating.

In advance of her Challenge Cup debut, she will officiate as an assistant referee at the Barbarians versus Tonga game at Thomond Park in her home city of Limerick this coming Friday, and at the Spain versus Canada and the France versus Japan internationals later this month.

Neville made more history last weekend when she became the first woman to referee a Principality Premiership game in Wales. The Welsh Rugby Union appointed her to officiate Pontypridd's 45-12 victory over Ebbw Vale.