AS Hollie Davidson walked out to a cauldron of 80,000 at Twickenham for one of the Six Nations’ most historic rivalries, the weight of the occasion was not lost on her.

She had already refereed the Women’s World Cup final at a packed-out Eden Park, but something about this was different.

As the English and Welsh anthems rang out, her legs got heavier. The 31-year-old was about to become the first female assistant referee in a men’s Six Nations fixture and one that many would argue is the tournament’s most hostile face-off.

“People tried to tell me it’s just another game, but it’s not,” she told The National.

Davidson had known since November she was going to be an assistant referee in this year’s England v Wales match after impressing at the men’s World Under-20s Championship, but the huge build-up to the event still caught her by surprise.

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She said: “The build-up in the weeks leading up to a men’s six nations match is on a far larger scale [than in the women’s equivalent]. But when the 80 minutes happens, you just do your job.”

That last part sums up beautifully how Davidson has applied herself in what has been and remains a male-dominated industry.

Since becoming Scotland’s first full-time professional female referee in 2017, Davidson has been something of a trailblazer in officiating.

Not long after becoming contracted, she found herself officiating at the Women’s World Cup in Ireland and since then, she has become a familiar face as a referee or assistant for dozens of international and club fixtures in the male and female game.

But despite how she has essentially bust open the glass ceiling for budding female referees, she has never let herself stray into trying to be someone she’s not and attributes her success to always being true to herself.

Asked how she’d managed to achieve so much in such a short space of time, she said: “I’m a very competitive person in my roots. If I put my head to something, there’s not much that will stop me until I feel I’ve given it my all.

“I think, secondly, sometimes when we get into sport, we try and be someone we’re not and sometimes that can end up tripping us up.

"I think when I was younger, when I was in a proper, serious job, I tried to speak or act in a certain way when actually if you can be yourself throughout something, you’re far more comfortable, and especially in refereeing if you’re under pressure and can be a lot more natural, it’s less likely you’ll make mistakes.

The National:

“I’ve had come to terms with the fact I’m not going to get everything correct [in a game] but for me as a person, I know I can grow from that.

“What people see on field is probably what they get off it. I try and enjoy it as much as I can and in doing that, just stay as true to who I am as possible. As long as you are good at your job, it shouldn’t matter about your gender.”

Davidson started out in rugby as a player for Murrayfield Wanderers when she was a teenager but eventually got to a stage where she wasn’t progressing in the game as much as she had hoped.

Still wanting to be involved but not wanting to coach, she started going along to Scottish Rugby’s officiating courses and quickly fell in love with it.

Just before Davidson started learning the ropes, Scottish Rugby had made the first moves to make it easier for women to get into refereeing.

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The courses had originally been scheduled on a Sunday which clashed with Scottish Women’s Premiership games meaning many girls were not able to attend, but a female-only course was eventually created on a Saturday.

Davidson said professional refereeing is now a very achievable goal for any girl dreaming of being the woman in the middle.

“Access to courses and training now is far more attainable for anyone that wants to get involved,” she said.

“In terms of structures around match officiating, we now have people dedicated to the women’s game within World Rugby [which is important] because we’d be naïve to say the women’s game is the same [as the men’s].

“We play the same game but the way in which it is played is different. In some ways it’s the purest version of what rugby used to be like; this attractive, passing rugby which gives you great tries and is brilliant to watch.”

The National:

Davidson believes it’s not just the world of refereeing that has come on leaps and bounds for women, but the women’s game itself.

A huge part of that has been about not trying too hard to compete with the men and embracing what makes the women’s game unique.

When she refereed the Women’s World Cup final between England and New Zealand, she realised how far the sport had come.

“I remember walking out to Kingspan Stadium [in Northern Ireland in 2017] as an assistant referee and it was unbelievable,” she said.

“I think about five million watched the final on ITV, but then fast forward to the final in 2022 in New Zealand, I was in the middle and we walked out to a packed out Eden Park.

“The media attention it was receiving and the way people were talking about women’s rugby, and then being able to walk out there as the referee, it gave me goosebumps.

“To see the sport on a pedestal like that was fantastic. That was more touching than anything else.”

Davidson is now hoping following her exploits at Twickenham in February, more girls will be inspired to give refereeing a go.  

Asked what her advice would be for aspiring female referees, she said: “I’m under no illusions that to start with its quite intimidating, but it has grown me so much as an individual and it’s given me so many opportunities. So go and give it a try and just enjoy it.”

To find out more about officiating courses, click here.