The youngest of six brothers in the Samoan rugby dynasty to have played for Leicester Tigers, Manu Tuilagi has had a glittering career for both club and country.
Having four older siblings, who have all represented Samoa, it was no surprise that this firecracker of a rugby player quickly found a passion for the sport.
He moved to the UK as a teenager to follow his brothers on their respective career paths, before joining Rumney RFC’s youth setup.
Shortly after, he moved to Leicester to join the Tigers’ academy at 15. He made his first official appearances for the Tigers in 2009, but his first season with the senior side was the 2010-11 season where he quickly became an established first-team regular.
Flying his way through the England ranks, he played for the U16 and U18 age group teams, making a hugely physical impact along the way.
He became England’s youngest Rugby World Cup player at just 20 years, beating previous record holder Jonny Wilkinson.
He scored England’s try in the memorable 2019 Rugby World Cup semi-final win over New Zealand before being involved in the final defeat by South Africa.
Tuilagi left Leicester in 2020 to join Premiership rivals Sale Sharks.
Former England, Leicester, Bath and Worcester star, Sam Vesty, has become a didi rugby ambassador.
Now enjoying his role as Northampton Saints’ attack coach in the Gallagher Premiership, Sam says he ‘shares the same values’ as didi rugby and wanted to get involved and help spread those values whenever he can.
With three children of his own, Sam says he knows all about the importance of getting youngsters involved in activity and fun at a young age.
“I am privileged and honoured to become a didi rugby ambassador,” said the 38-year-old.
“I wanted to do this because I share the same values as didi rugby of getting kids active and having fun. Classes can also be used as a development tool to help children gain in confidence.
“You can also learn a lot of life skills through rugby like team work, discipline and respect, and these can be carried over into any walk of life.
It didn’t take England and Saracens’ lock forward Poppy Cleall long to agree to become a didi rugby ambassador when asked.
Having begun playing the game she loves at the tender age of six at an after-school club, Norwich-born Poppy is one of life’s do-ers.
Raising money for charities has seen her trekking mountain ranges in Nepal and cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats.
On the pitch, Poppy has been equally ambitious and successful. A Grand Slam Six Nations winner with England and a World Cup runner-up, the back-row forward has just won a national title with Saracens after beating Harlequins 24-20 in a thrilling Tyrrells Premiership final in 2018.
She now shares the Saracens changing room with younger twin, Bryony and is happy they are on the same side: “We are very competitive and that’s why I have joined Sarries because I am not playing against her any more!”
didi ambassador – Poppy Cleall
The next generation
Poppy is a versatile forward and started all five games in the 2018 Six Nations playing at No.8, blindside flanker and second-row.
Having started playing so young, she believes didi rugby is doing a great job of spreading the game to the next generation and has been spending time with Ben and Sarries team mate Georgie Gulliver at the Bedfordshire franchise.
“When Ben and Georgie first took on the Didi rugby Bedfordshire, I couldn’t think of two better people to hang out with on a weekend and learn rugby with,” she said.
“I have seen the great work that didi rugby is doing through the photos and videos on social media and all the kids having a great time.
“So when they asked me to be an ambassador, I didn’t take long to reply. What’s better then getting to pick up a ball on a weekend and make some friends – whatever age you are!”
Giselle Mather is a passionate and dedicated coach who is driving on Wasps Ladies’ tilt at the Tyrrells Women’s Premiership title as their director of rugby.
A member of the England side that won the 1994 World Cup, Giselle holds a Level 4 coaching qualification – the highest grade attainable in the UK.
She is ambitious too and, having enjoyed successful coaching stints with Teddington RFC, London Irish and England Women at senior and Under-20s level, Giselle is very open to get involved in the men’s Premiership in the future.
Now she is firmly entrenched in a new challenge and furthering her knowledge with a committed and exciting team of players.
didi ambassador – Giselle Mather
World Cup winner
During her playing career, Giselle earned 34 caps for her country.
didi rugby owner Vicky Macqueen has first-hand experience of just how good a coach Giselle is having been under her guidance during her early days in the national set-up.
“She was my first England A coach,” said Vicky. “I first met her on European Championship duty when I was picked to play for England ‘A’ in France in 2001.
“She continued to coach me for England A and then England, for quite a few years afterwards.
“I recently played with her in the England Legends v Ireland Legends game around the time of the World Cup in 2017 and it was a really special moment for me.
“I had always looked up to her and respected her so much, so to actually put my boots on with her and play together was fantastic.
“I am delighted she is now a part of what we are doing at didi rugby.”
England and Harlequins hooker Amy Cokayne knows all about the benefits of picking up a rugby ball from a young age.
By the age of six, she was having fun at the Lichfield club and learning the skills and values of the game.
So it was great to welcome Amy to the didi rugby family when she became an ambassador and helped launch the South Warwickshire franchise.
Amy’s rugby journey headed south at the age of nine when her family emigrated to New Zealand and her influence on her new school mates at Feilding High School was illustrated when they won an incredible 53 consecutive games in 2012 under her captaincy.
didi ambassador – Amy Cokayne
Dream come true
She was invited to join a New Zealand Women’s training camp but had her heart set on playing for the country of her birth and that dream came true.
Amy scored her first England try in 2015 and was involved in every game at the 2017 World Cup in Ireland. She also scored a hat-trick of tries against Scotland and at the Stoop which was only the second time a front-rower had scored three tries in the history of the Six Nations.
Closing in on 50 England caps in her early 20s, Amy has a huge future ahead of her.
Rachael Burford has made a massive impact on the world of rugby with a stellar club and international career.
A centre for Harlequins and with 84 caps for England, Rachael has played the game at the top level for more than a decade.
Coming from a rugby-playing family, Rachael first picked up a ball at the age of just six and went on to play in the same team as her mum and sister for a season at Medway RFC, where she stayed for the first 10 years of her career.
Having learned at first hand the benefits of picking up a rugby ball from a young age, it is no surprise that Rachael wanted to help promote the values and activities of didi rugby.
The Burford Academy
With a coaching academy of her own called The Burford Academy, Rachael recognises that girls’ rugby doesn’t always receive the coverage it deserves.
Rachael said: “We are both passionate about rugby and being healthy and looking after kids. We are trying to link the Burford Academy with didi rugby in more sessions around the country.”
She is determined to be a strong role model to girls who aspire to play rugby. Her academy improves girls’ skills and knowledge of the game. She is certainly intent on helping bring on the next generation.
didi ambassador – Rachael Burford
In a well-decorated career, Rachael had already played in two Sevens World Cups and two at XVs level, before she was part of the winning team in France in 2014, a year which saw her go on to become England’s Player of the Year.
The respect for her knowledge and achievements within the game led to her becoming the first female professional player to make it to the RPA Players’ Board in 2016.
And then she featured in every match for England during the 2017 Six Nations Grand Slam and the 2017 World Cup which saw England lose their crown in a titanic tussle with New Zealand.
That same year also saw her win the International Rugby Players’ Association merit award alongside All Black skipper Richie McCaw.
Rachael received a full-time England XVs contract in January 2019, playing in the squad that won the Grand Slam in the Women’s Six Nations.
Mike Friday has a habit of making a big impact on the international Sevens circuit.
Currently the head of the USA Sevens team, his coaching and mentoring helped the Eagles rise from 13th place in the 2013/14 IRB Sevens Series up to a sixth-placed finish in his first year.
They remained in the top six for each of his first three years in charge – a tremendous achievement for a country seen as not one of the World’s biggest top 10 rugby-playing nations.
Before accepting the America job, Mike was head coach of the Kenya Sevens team, leading them up the IRB rankings from 12th to 5th after his first season in charge.
But it was Kenya’s third-placed finish in the World Cup Rugby Sevens in 2013 that really caught the eye and made the USA come calling for his services.
The former scrum-half, who played club rugby for Wasps and Harlequins, started his Sevens coaching career with England and became their head coach in 2004.
didi ambassador – Mike Friday
Win a medal
He led them to 2nd and 3rd-placed finishes in the World Rugby Sevens Series in his first two seasons and saw his side win a medal at the 2006 Commonwealth Games.
Mike coached didi rugby founder Vicky Macqueen in 2009 and, after hearing about her values and aims for the business, was more than happy to get involved an become an ambassador.
“I am a big supporter of didi rugby because it is a great way to get young kids active, healthy and enjoying the great game that we all love,” said Mike.
“I have been fortunate enough to have been around the sport of rugby for most of my life and know the positive impact it has on those who play and support the game.
didi is 'the perfect platform'
“I cannot recommend an early introduction into the sport and its values highly enough.
“didi rugby really is the perfect platform to encourage young children to learn about the game but also to learn some key life skills along the way. As well as the fun involved in playing rugby, there is a sense of team spirit like no other sport and a huge amount of self confidence can be learned by developing skills.
“Vicky Macqueen and her team are are talented and dedicated bunch of people and, with many players and coaches leading the way within the didi set-up, they will be running sessions and classes using their own backgrounds to make this a wonderful experience for children and their parents.
“I am delighted to be an ambassador for didi rugby and am looking forward to doing my bit when I can to help the values and ideals of didi spread far and wide.”
“Let’s get them out there, get them playing and get the parents involved. Let’s have a lot of fun.”
Charlotte Pearce made her England debut in the 2018 Six Nations just seven years after she first picked up a rugby ball.
And while none of our didi rugby stars will be able to break that record, she is happy to become involved in sharing the values and fun of the sport with children.
Charlotte joined England colleague Amy Cokayne at the launch of didi rugby South Warwickshire in May 2018.
Earlier that year, she had made her international debut off the bench in England’s 42-7 win over Italy in Regio Emilia.
didi ambassador Charlotte Pearce
National training camp
She only began playing the game in her first year at Edge Hill University and joined her first club, Ormskirk the following season.
After postgraduate study at Loughborough University, Charlotte earned a contract with Loughborough Lightning and was a frequent try-scorer for them in the inaugural season of the Tyrrells Premier 15s, leading to regular national training camp call-ups in 2017.
Then her full debut arrived the following year. With a black belt in karate at the age of 11, this didi ambassador is not to be messed with and we are delighted she has joined the didi family for her big smile and her infectious energy around the kids.
Danielle ‘Nolli’ Waterman retired from the international game in 2018 to sign off a stellar career which has made her one of the most recognisable faces in Women’s rugby.
The latest member of England’s World Cup-winning team of 2014 to become a didi rugby ambassador, she has played for more than 15 years at the top level of the game and earned 82 international caps, scoring 47 tries.
She is an Olympian having represented Great Britain in Rio in 2016 and is the only player in the world to have played in four World Cup and the Olympics.
She will continue to play her club rugby at Wasps next season.
Nolli (“My brother called me ‘Danny Ollie’ and so my dad shortened it to Nolli”) wanted to become a didi rugby ambassador after helping launch the Gloucestershire franchise in June 2018.
And having grown up playing the game in a rugby family, it is no surprise that she wants to encourage a new generation of players to enjoy the game.
Her father Jim is a legend at Bath having played over 400 games for them in the 60s, 70s and 80s and both of her brothers have played at county level for Somerset.
Nolli has often been a pundit on TV and has worked for Sky Sports and the BBC.
“didi rugby is such a brilliant programme for little ones and I loved getting to help Susie Appleby at the launch of didi Gloucestershire,” she said.
“I was shown how to do it by my dad at the age of four but I also have a lot to thank my two older brothers for as we would play one-on-one in the garden every moment that we could.
“If I wanted to play with them I had to be good enough so with full contact, I had to learn to avoid them early doors. Being a smaller player throughout my career it’s held me in good stead.”