One of the biggest names in world rugby, Manu Tuilagi, has become an ambassador for didi rugby.
With his own family now running around having fun, the powerful centre, who now plays for Sale Sharks after making his name at Leicester Tigers, says he knows the value of getting kids active.
“What an amazing programme didi rugby is, allowing the little ones and their families to get physically active and involved in our great sport of rugby,” said Manu.
“But the most important thing is for the little ones to have fun and enjoy themselves and get a brilliant introduction into our sport through didi rugby classes.”
Manu Tuilagi joins Sale
Having made his debut for Leicester in 2009, Manu made a name for himself as an incredibly powerful runner, like-breaker and tackler and that led to a successful career with both the England national team and the British & Irish Lions.
He remains one of the most iconic figures in world rugby. didi rugby CEO Vicky Macqueen says she is delighted that the man who grew up in Vicky’s home town of Hinckley has joined the didi family to encourage more youngsters to get involved in the sport.
“Manu is a huge figure in world rugby and everyone at didi rugby is buzzing about his decision to become an ambassador for us,” she said.
“What some people don’t know is that Manu is a lovely person and a family man who adores his home life with family and friends.
“Coming from a big family himself with lots of brothers, he knows the importance of play and having fun as a youngster and he will be encouraging children across the country to get involved in didi rugby classes to grow both their skills and confidence, while having fun.”
didi rugby’s latest ambassador was eating at a Nandos restaurant when she got some of the best news of her life.
It was so unexpected though, she thought her parents’ surprise card was a complete wind-up.
Jodie Ounsley sat with her mum and dad eating chicken when she prized open an envelope from her mum.
It said: ‘Congratulations on your first professional rugby contract with England’!
When her parents Jo and Phil convinced her it was no joke, confusion turned to shock… and then excitement.
The girl from Yorkshire who was born profoundly deaf in both ears was now an England Rugby Sevens player.
Jodie loved every minute of training with her new team-mates who she said ‘did everything possible’ to make things as easy as possible with communication an obvious challenge on the training and playing surface.
Head coach Charlie Hayter said of Jodie after she joined the camp: “She showed some great physical attributes so we wanted to offer her a contract.
“Since she arrived, she has fitted in really well with the rest of the team and made great progress. Jodie loves a bit of banter and she puts extra hours in to make sure that she really understands what we are doing too.”
Sevens team mate and head coach of didi rugby Worcester, Alex Matthews said Jodie was a joy to be around.
“Fortunately for me, I was Jodie’s mentor in the Sevens programme, which to be honest, I think benefited me more so than her,” said Alex.
“Her resilience and dedication is unbelievable, not only shown through her training and mindset, but also shown off the field through her personal circumstances of overcoming being born profoundly deaf and having integrated into a team sport.
“She’s modest and authentic, with the natural desire to help and inspire others. She’s a brilliant ambassador to have on board at didi!”
While Covid-19 has made her Sevens future uncertain for the time being, she is determined and very driven to be back with a bang when competitive England Sevens rugby returns.
Until then, playing for Sale Sharks and being a didi rugby ambassador are two of the things that will keep her busy – and she is throwing herself into the latter with a live Facebook broadcast in didi’s ‘Skills and Storytime’ online session during the latest national lockdown.
“I was really nervous doing it but wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone,” said Jodie. “But I really loved it and had great fun.
“didi rugby is great for kids. It gets them active, mixing with other children and gets them into good habits at a young age. I am really pleased to be an ambassador and will love getting involved.”
didi rugby CEO and founder Vicky Macqueen added: “Jodie is a joy to be around and her attitude is infectious.
“She was brilliant doing our Skills and Storytime session online (see pic below) and we are absolutely made-up that she has chosen to become a didi ambassador.
“I am sure she will be inspiring lots of other youngsters to take up the sport and join our classes in the coming months.”
Jodie was born without hearing but a Cochlear ear implant and speech therapy has vastly improved her ability to communicate with speech.
Even so, life was far from easy at a mainstream school and she became drawn away from academic pursuits and into the sporting environment. PE, athletics and running were things she loved doing and success soon followed.
She is a five-times champion of the annual ‘Coal Race’ in her native Yorkshire where you literally run for a mile with a bag on coal on your shoulders!
Ju-Jitsu titles arrived in her teens and then she flew to Turkey as a 16-year-old to compete against fully-grown women in the 100m and 200m Deaf Olympics.
By then, rugby was already on the horizon but doctors had warned against the dangers of playing contacts sports like rugby with the implant. Her dad looked into it and was satisfied that that danger would be greatly reduced with a scrum cap on.
“I soon rocked up at my local club, Sandal, with a scrum cap and boots and explained I was keen to play but had hearing issues,” Jodie Ounsley explained.
“They threw me quickly into a side and then threw me onto a pitch where I really didn’t have much of a club what was going on. I found myself on the wing and when I first went for the ball, I literally tripped up over my own shoelace! I picked up the ball and just ran for my life. Somehow, I passed a few people and scored a try. It was exhilarating and I loved it.
Jodie got a place at Loughborough College aged 16 and left home ‘to play rugby’.
There was soon age-range appearances for England but her rugby career really took off after she had recovered from a dislocated shoulder.
Then came the Nandos with mum and dad, an England Sevens deal, a new club in Sale Sharks, the Deaf Sports Personality of the Year 2020 award and a driving ambition to represent Great Britain in the Olympic Games still firmly in her thoughts.
“I would say to anyone who struggles with a disability, just go for it and try rugby,” said Jodie. “Don’t let your disability not be the reason for giving rugby a go.”
Professional rugby referee Sara Cox is didi rugby’s latest ambassador.
And she is keen to support classes that will teach youngsters the ‘valuable social skills’ to help them grow as individuals from an early age.
Sara first got involved in rugby when she was 14 and represented local clubs Exeter, Saracens and Cullompton before she retired from playing the game at the age of 17.
Undeterred, Sara qualified as a rugby referee, officiated her first international when Italy played Ireland in 2014, added the World Cup in France to her CV and, in 2016, became the first female ref to be centrally contracted by the English RFU.
In 2020, she was assistant referee at the Bath v Wasps men’s game in the Gallagher Premiership, with her first appointment in the middle of a top tier English game surely only a matter of time away.
“Getting involved in didi rugby at an early age teaches children lots of different things,” said Sara. “It’s less about the rugby at that age and more about the interaction with other kids and learning social skills along the way.
“In all walks of life, at any age, you will always have to deal with other human beings and the earlier you start to learn the skills required to do that, you can carry that on into adulthood.”
Having been a shining light for women’s progress in rugby, Sara is obviously keen for young girls to take up a sport that has been very good to her.
And she is encouraging girls of any age to take on the challenges that may come their way.
“Humans have challenges in all walks of life and in whatever they do,” said Sara. “We all have hurdles to get over and the challenges do not stop. You have to keep moving with the times and embrace what comes your way.”
didi rugby founder and CEO Vicky Macqueen says the whole didi rugby team is excited to have Sara on board.
“Not only is Sara a wonderful referee and a great person, she is an inspiration to any youngster taking up the sport,” says Vicky.
“Sara has decided to become a didi rugby ambassador and support our efforts to get young people active and having fun. Her determination is a great example to young people and she is a fantastic role model too. ”
Hugely respected sports coach Richard Cheetham (MBE) has become a didi rugby ambassador.
Richard is a senior fellow in sports coaching at the University of Winchester and has built up an incredible reputation for creative thinking within the industry.
He has been at the University of Winchester since 2005 and is known for a more holistic approach to coaching during time with Fulham FC and Gallagher Premiership club, Saracens.
He has gained recognition nationally and internationally within coach education and has been an invited speaker for British Cycling, Cycling Ireland, England Handball and the England Cricket Coaches Association.
Richard knows didi rugby CEO and founder Vicky Macqueen (Level 4 RFU coach) through the coaching sector. He says he is delighted to throw his support behind didi’s ethos to get young children active, having fun and building confidence from a young age.
Early years’ experience
“The influence of a positive experience of sport and physical activity can last a lifetime and a child’s early years’ experience of both is critical,” says Richard.
“Their experiences shape attitudes, behaviours and can enable them to build confidence, have fun, make new friends and learn new skills in a safe and supportive environment.
“This is at the heart of the didi rugby philosophy and shows the importance they place on providing a setting which embodies these.
“It is an initiative that I feel very proud to have been invited to be an ambassador for and as a coach and coach educator, the approach taken here is one I fully endorse.
“The interests of the child are at the heart of their work with a great programme design and a wish for those children to reflect upon an enjoyable experience and create a thirst for wanting more.”
Vicky said: “We have some amazing ambassadors at didi rugby who have played the sport to the highest level. But to get the support of someone with such a great reputation on the coaching side of sport means a lot too.
“Richard’s record speaks for itself, he is a wonderful man and is very passionate about what we do and the reasons behind why we do it.”
didi rugby ambassador and England Women’s international Heather Fisher is causing a storm every night.
One of women’s sports most recognisable figure has been hosting ‘didi rugby story time’ for the last two weeks to brighten up the days of many didi stars during the coronavirus lockdown of 2020.
It has come as no surprise to those who know her, that the amount of children and parents who have been watching her broadcasts live on didi’s Facebook channel, has grown day by day.
Heather’s energetic delivery and friendly face has attracted a dedicated bunch of fans who have loved being face-to-face with her every weekday evening at 6.00pm.
Not only has Heather been reading some of the nation’s favourite children’s books written over the past 10 years, she has also been teaching them some new physical skills and things to work on for the following evening.
“I am loving doing this collaboration with didi rugby,” says Heather. “The amount of people who are tuning in has grown every night and I am really enjoying having fun with our didi stars.”
Friend of Heather Fisher
didi rugby founder and CEO Vicky Macqueen is a long-time friend of Heather and she has been delighted with the reaction to ‘story time’.
“Heather has been amazing and has already built up a real rapport with the children and parents who are tuning in every night at 6.00pm. We are having lots of fun and the feedback we have been getting has been incredible!”
Growing in popularity with members and non-members too, ‘didi rugby story time’ is part of an amazing effort from didi rugby franchises across the UK who have been hosting classes and setting challenges online, instead of face-to-face throughout the COVID-19 outbreak.
WATCH this video below to see a full version of ‘story time with Heather Fisher’. Join us every weekday night LIVE on Facebook from 6.00pm.
Book your child onto didi rugby’s national online session every Monday from 11.00am during the UK’s COVID-19 lockdown here: https://bit.ly/2z2XjsL
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.