Joy Neville made history after becoming the first female to referee a top-level UK rugby union match.

The World Rugby Referee of the Year officiated Friday's Pro14 match between Ulstre and Southern Kings at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast.

Neville, who refereed the women's 2017 World Cup final between New Zealand and England, posted to Twitter saying she was "extremely excited about the opportunity".

Read more: NZ Rugby name women in referee squad for first time

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Neville told the BBC she had "never intended" to be a referee, but considered taking on the challenge after retiring in 2013.

She said it was a less-than-encouraging conversation with a senior rugby official that inspired her to take the challenge.

"I said 'look, I want your opinion on something, I have one question - do you think it's possible for a female referee to ref in division 1A in Ireland', and he said 'Joy, not in my lifetime'".

Joy Neville was awarded World Rugby Referee Award during the World Rugby Awards 2017. Photo / Getty
Joy Neville was awarded World Rugby Referee Award during the World Rugby Awards 2017. Photo / Getty

Neville said her goals far-reached beyond Pro14 games and would like to officiate the Six Nations tournament.

"To be involved with the Six Nations on the line as an official would be a dream come true. Whether that's achievable...I don't know, but I'll try," she said.

Earlier this year, former Black Ferns Rebecca Mahoney and Natarsha Ganley became the first women selected for New Zealand's high performance referees' national squad.

New Zealand Rugby's high performance referee manager Bryce Lawrence said the selection was "fantastic for women in refereeing" and that having Mahoney and Ganley in the squad would contribute to their goal of "having the best match officials in the world".

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