Saturday’s Men’s Six Nations match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium will represent another milestone in the sport, and also in the career of Hollie Davidson.
Davidson has been appointed to be one of referee James Doleman’s two assistants and is in line to become the first female official to be involved in the competition either pitchside or in the middle.
In 363 previous matches since Italy joined in 2000, and the hundreds if not thousands before that, when rugby’s oldest Championship adopted a four and then a five-team format, initially on an unofficial basis, male officials have always ruled over proceedings.
But Davidson and other notable female officials before her, like the soon-to-retire Joy Neville, Aimee Barrett-Theron and recent MBE recipient Sara Cox, continue to push back the boundaries and break through the glass ceilings in their way.
Having clocked up more than 30 tests as a referee, officiated at two Women’s Rugby World Cups and an Olympic Games by the age of 31, Davidson is used to the big occasion and is also no stranger to men’s test rugby.
In June 2022, the Aberdeenshire-born official created history when she became the first female to referee a men's Six Nations team in an international with Portugal v Italy in Lisbon.
And last weekend she was the person in charge of the Netherlands v Spain in the opening round of the 2024 Men’s Rugby Europe Championship.
However, the former Scotland U20 scrum-half admits her latest appointment completely took her aback, given the history and prestige of the fixture, which is now in its 143rd year.
“I was a little overwhelmed to be honest, when I got the call it was amazing,” said Davidson, who will be “an honorary Kiwi for the day” at Twickenham in an otherwise all-New Zealand team of officials.
“Even if you’re not an avid rugby follower everybody gets involved when the Six Nations is on, everyone watches it growing up and everyone gets excited, so to be on the line for one of these games I think is a dream come true.
“Our school used to put on bus trips down to Murrayfield and they were some of the best memories I had as a kid growing up, going to watch Scotland play.
“I just think now to be a part of this competition is amazing and I think for young boys and girls to see a female assistant referee on the line, it shows them that they can achieve anything they want and get involved in the future.”
Inspiring the next generation
For Davidson, this visibility on such a big stage is crucial to not only correcting gender imbalance but also in strengthening refereeing standards overall.
“I think that it just puts back in focus, once again, that rugby is for everyone, both male and female in a playing and match officiating perspective,” she said.
“There is a lot of conversations around having opportunities and I am a big believer that if you see someone that is a similar to you, you can then aspire to do exactly what they do.
“So for young boys and girls to see me on the line, hopefully it inspires them to one, pick up a whistle and two, try and make it to the top.
“The more people that we can get into officiating, that only drives the standards up so, hopefully, in a few years’ time we’ll have more people pushing from the ground up so there is a lot of competition for these spots.
“You never know, in the future there might be a female referee who does a Six Nations game in the middle.”
Given her relatively young age and her track record in breaking new ground, there is a good chance that Davidson will be there, at the front of the queue, when that opportunity arises.
Photo: Dennis van de Sande (Rugby Europe)