Rugby is leading the way for female football officials with two women refereeing top-grade matches in Brisbane and Sydney this weekend.
Rachel Horton – high school science teacher, microbiologist, Muay Thai fighter and fitness fanatic – admits she’s a control freak.
That’s just one reason why she’ll make Queensland rugby history on Saturday when the 36-year-old becomes the first woman to referee a top-grade men’s match.
At the same time as England-born Horton officiates the Norths-Bond University premier rugby clash at Courtney Oval, Australia’s leading female whistleblower, Amy Perrett, makes her top-grade debut in Sydney’s Shute Shield.
Although the AFL has a women’s goal umpire in Chelsea Roffey and the NRL has a couple of female touch judges, Horton and Perrett will be in charge in the middle.
As part of Australian rugby’s push for greater female participation heading towards the 2016 Olympics, the pair are two of four women in the ARU’s national squad of 20 referees.
A former lock and No.8 for 10 seasons in England and Canada, Horton began refereeing when the game lost some enjoyment as a player.
“I wanted to do something more individual and less team-based but desperately wanted to stay in rugby,” she told AAP.
“It was either coaching or refereeing but found coaching a high school team really frustrating – I just wanted to run onto the field myself.
“So I gave refereeing a go … even though I thought I’d hate it.”
The eldest of three siblings, the former British Army reservist, who stands at an imposing 183cm, is a natural.
“My brother says it’s like telling people what to do,” she said. “I guess he knows me quite well.”
ARU referees manager Scott Young stressed Horton’s promotion was no token appointment, praising her for her game awareness and fitness.
Her stature does help in dealing with doubting coaches and players, so too her athleticism.
As well as competing in ironman triathlons, Horton is aiming for a shot at an Australian Muay Thai title (70-75kg division) later this year.
“I thought I would get a lot of grief when I started (refereeing),” she said. “I thought I would get more being a woman, but I think I get less than the guys.
“You get a few sideways glances when you first turn up but, as soon as it becomes apparent you can do the job, they forget you are a woman.”
Perrett, only 25, has followed in the footsteps of Canberra’s Sarah Corrigan, who refereed the last Women’s World Cup final, in controlling international 15s and sevens matches.
All three, plus Chyna Howlett, will be sideline officials in the third-tier National Rugby Championship, kicking off next month, while Young won’t rule out a female whistleblower in Super Rugby.
“Anything is possible,” he said.