WOMEN rugby referees are in the spotlight thanks to Sara Cox, the only professionally contracted women official on the RFU books.

Sara recently took charge at the Women’s Premiership final in which Richmond beat Saracens.

But Vicky Muir, a woman on the Dorset & Wilts League referees’ roster, says that her gender should not officiate at major tournaments simply for the sake of it.

The last Women’s Rugby World Cup held in France in 2014 was widely regarded as a spectacular global showpiece with unprecedented levels of skill and athleticism and a great victory for England over Canada in the final.

But the IRB’s decision to use exclusively female on-field officials was by common consent deemed a mistake, with the standard of refereeing not matching the quality of the rugby played.

Cox hopes to referee in the Women’s Sevens tournament at the Rio Olympics this summer when Muir hopes that the organisers will opt for a mixed group of refs rather than women only.

“A woman can be as good as any man as a referee; it is all about how fast and fit you are and keeping up with the game,” she said. “And women should of course be allowed to ref at the elite level.

“But if I was an international player I would want the best person in charge – and not someone simply because she is the same sex.”

Having played the game for 22 years Vicky’s noble reason for becoming a ref was simply to continue being involved in the game she loves.

“As a former captain, manager and coach I know how hard it is to get any ref to officiate at a women’s game on a Sunday,” she said. “I just want to enable people to play rugby.

“I am refereeing at a level that is entirely appropriate to me. I am unambitious, I just want to continue to get better.”

And her reward – petrol expenses and a drink in the clubhouse bar afterwards.

“I never turn down a free pint of cider,” joked Vicky, 38, who works at the Swindon-based medical devices company Vygon as a quality assurance manager.

“I was a player for 22 years and being from Manchester originally I started at Sale RFC and I became a Cheshire county coach and manager,” she said.

“But I had a pituitary tumour in 2001 and had two years out of the game. I tried to come back but I was no longer so fit and fast although they let me have a 20-minute run-out occasionally.

“In 2012 we moved to Gillingham in Dorset. I didn’t fancy getting to know a new team all over again but I wanted to stay in the game. “I went on the RFU website and found the nearest two-day entry-level refereeing course. It is an assessed course and if you come through that you can referee at a low level.”

Malmesbury resident Vicky now operates at Level 10 in the rugby pyramid where she can officiate at Dorset & Wilts Two North matches involving the likes of Minety Reserves.

Minety spokesman Graham Cooke said: “The lads were very positive about Vicky.

“She refereed the match well, always keeping up with play, demanded and got the respect of the players and was scrupulously fair in her decision making.” Rugby referees are generally shown a lot more respect in the amateur and professional games than their footballing counterparts and that is Vicky’s experience too. “I have been very well received in the Dorset & Wilts League,” she said.

“I like to think I know the game and that helps you build a rapport with the players. I’m told I am very strict. I won’t have any talking back, but at least that way the players know where they stand.

“I’ve only had a couple of difficult games in my three years. There was one that I ended after 77 minutes because I was so sick of the players arguing.

“And I did once have cause to lecture a coach about his language because there were children present.”

Ironically, in her three years as a ref, Vicky has yet to take control of a women’s match. Although that could soon change.

“I make myself available on a Saturday – which is when the men play – because I have never felt fit enough to do two games at the weekend – until now. “For his 40th birthday, my husband Duncan decided he wanted to do a triathlon – and now he has caught the bug.

“So I joined the Flying Monk Triathlon Club 12 months ago and I am set to compete in my first triathlon on May 1.

“I’ve caught the triathlon bug too so I now feel fit enough to officiate on both days of the weekend. And it is generally on Sundays when women play.”