By Clare Daniels
This year is undoubtedly a huge one for the womens game as international teams from across the globe continue their preparations for the World Cup in August.
With the USA and Canada having already done battle in Florida, and the Womens 6 Nations drawing closer for our top European sides, a much-needed platform has also been provided for female referees as we too look towards the IRB showpiece event in London.
Following the Womens World Cup in Canada in 2006, the IRB and many host unions helped the progression and development of women referees by opening up more of their Test matches for the appointment of women officials.
If youre good enough and have proved yourself then why not, and as with players it helps the development of the womens game as a whole as promoting officiating will hopefully encourage more female players to have a go themselves. At present (and I do not have access to any official figures) the percentage of women officials compared to women players is unacceptable and we all have a part to play in turning that around.
But this spring, the Womens 6 Nations competition will see an unprecedented number of female whistle blowers take charge five in total as Sarah Corrigan (Australia), Andrea Ttofa (England), Dana Teagarden (USA), Mhairi Hay (Scotland) and myself have been given the opportunity to oversee games.
Being appointed to a Test match is a huge privilege and one that is greeted with much joy every time you are fortunate to get the call from your Union, so there will plenty of reasons for Andrea and Mhairi to celebrate (OK, so maybe after the game) as their appointments in the 6 Nations mark their full Test debuts.
Australias Sarah Corrigan, who refereed the World Cup semi-final between England and Canada in 2006, is currently enjoying the colder climate of the Northern Hemisphere as after a brief trip to Florida for the second USA v Canada Test, the Sydney-based official will be subjected to the colder weather in the UK for two Six Nations tests before she heads back Down Under.
This will be Sarahs first Six Nations tournament, but it is not the first time a female Southern Hemisphere referee has overseen a game as in 2007, New Zealander Nicky Inwood took charge of the first all-female team of three at Twickenham when England hosted Italy at TW1.
The USAs Dana Teagarden (presently residing in Germany) has also been appointed to her first Six Nations game, while I am looking forward to the France v Ireland encounter on February 12 that I will oversee. These games are invaluable for those of us fortunate to have been selected for this years World Cup as exposure to Test level games is an invaluable tool in the countdown to kick-off on August 20, while for Andrea and Mhairi it will hopefully provide a huge boost as they look to embark on their international careers.
Heres hoping that 2010 sets records for the womens game in all aspects, including officiating at the highest level.
Womens 6 Nations appointments: (Weeks 1-3)
Ireland V Italy, Sarah Corrigan (ARU)
England V Wales, David Keane (IRFU)
Scotland V France, Stefano Mancini (FIR)
Wales V Scotland , Sarah Corrigan (ARU)
France V Ireland, Clare Daniels (RFU)
Italy V England, Mhairi Hay (Scotland)
Wales V France, Dana Teagarden (USA)
Italy V Scotland, Chris Williams (WRU)
England V Ireland, Steffano Marrama (FIR)
For more information on refereeing in England, visit www.rfu.com.