One of the quiet stars of Devon sport and a pioneer in her trade is Sara Cox, the world’s first professional female referee in rugby union.  

Cox was born in Devon and started as a junior rugby player with the likes of Exeter, Saracens, Cullompton and Plymouth Albion, with her first memories in the sport coming from a game in Tavistock. 

After suffering from injury at an early age, Cox switched to refereeing and qualified in 2007. She progressed through the ranks and reached the international stage by officiating at the 2014 Women’s Rugby World Cup in France. 

When Cox was centrally contracted by the RFU in 2016, she made global history by becoming the world’s first professional female rugby union referee. She describes her role as a ref at the 2016 Rio Olympics as one of the biggest moments in her career. 

The incredible upward spiral continued with another first, as she refereed a men’s match in National League 1 and also in the Challenge Cup.  

In 2018, Cox took charge of a Championship match between Doncaster Knights and Cornish Pirates. The next step was a Premiership Cup fixture between Northampton Saints and Wasps at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry. 

At the same time, Cox continued to officiate in international tournaments and Test matches. In September 2021, her career moved forward even further, as she was selected to referee the Premiership match of Harlequins v Worcester Warriors. 

It has been a meteoric rise for Cox and, best of all, her calm approach to the complexities of rugby refereeing has garnered praise from all corners of the game. 

Based in Exeter, Cox told The Guardian newspaper in an interview: “I’d like to leave behind a legacy where there is a clear pathway for other females to be involved. To show that there are no limits.

“If I can leave that behind and along the way had one person say: ‘Hey look, Sara, how do I get involved in this?’ then I’ve achieved what I’ve set out to do.” 

The Sara Cox story is one of pioneering success and Devon sport is very proud.