LONDON : Sara Cox said her historic debut as a Premiership referee could not have gone any better after earning rave reviews for her handling of Harlequins' win against Worcester on Saturday.
The 31-year-old became the first female referee to officiate in an English top-flight game and said her breakthrough would encourage more to follow in her footsteps.
"Amazing, I couldn't have honestly asked for better, I think there was a lot of engagement or interaction on social media and things and I didn't really process it until I actually ran out of the tunnel and I followed the players out," Cox told Reuters.
"When I got in the middle and there are 12,500 people all cheering ... you stop being apart of that moment, you start absorbing what's going on around you."
Cox, who has previously refereed a Premiership Cup match in 2018, two years after becoming the world's first professional female rugby union referee, handed out one yellow card in the match at Twickenham Stoop won 35-29 by Harlequins.
She praised both sets of players, some of whom initially addressed her as "sir".
"They were so respectful," Cox said. "Each and every single one of them including the coaching staff congratulated me afterwards, shook my hand and said well done and it's great to see you here. So, performance-wise, we will look at that in the background and we will look at how I did and my accuracy."
Cox, whose Premiership refereeing debut was postponed last season because of the COVID-19 shutdown, said it was just about "doing the job" regardless of gender.
"It's about me getting out there and making sure that I can be as accurate as possible and if I'm not then I need to learn from those mistakes," she said.
"To be honest I'd love to see more people involved in refereeing, regardless of gender. It's about being involved in those games, it is about enjoying and it's about understanding that we have a wonderful community behind rugby and that's from grassroots all the way to professional games.
"I've been involved for a long time now and it's made me who I am, not only my job, as a person as well."
Cox said she hoped she was helping to break down barriers.
"I think we have just got to keep that momentum, you've got to keep pushing forward," she said. "If people can't see what I do and some of the barriers I've managed to break, albeit by accident, we can't get people involved because they just don't know about it."
Announcing her appointment last week, Phil Winstanley, Rugby Director at Premiership Rugby, said it was not about gender.
"Sara is an excellent referee, she's been developing over many years and has progressed through the Premiership Rugby Shield and the Premiership Rugby Cup," he said.
"This appointment is very much about her skill and ability as a referee and she's there on merit."
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Alison Williams)