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.
“I think didi rugby is a brilliant concept.”, she says. “I think it’s something really necessary in Cornwall for young kids to be able to expose themselves to the skills required to play the game, but also just develop their confidence and find who they are as little people.”
If your child is aged 18 months-6 years, you can sign them up to didi rugby classes via our website’s ‘find a class’ page.
World Cup winner and newly-signed Worcester Women’s Rugby star Alex Matthews has joined the didi rugby team who will be launching didi rugby Worcester.
Alex has been part of the England XVs and Sevens set-up for almost a decade now but had her world thrown upside down when the England Sevens set-up became a casualty of recent coronavirus-related cuts by the Rugby Union (RFU).
Determined to ‘give something back’ to the sport that had made her what she is today, Alex had already experienced the positive benefits of didi rugby having helped out at didi rugby Reading.
So, when she got talking with didi founder and CEO Vicky Macqueen and then signed to play for Worcester Warriors in the Women’s Premier XVs this season, a partnership began to take place.
Now everything is in place, didi rugby Worcester will become the latest venue to get young children aged 18 months to 6 years playing rugby, learning new skills and having fun. Class venues will be released very soon.
It’s the latest step in an incredible few months for Alex.
“When the pandemic began, and we had to leave the Sevens group, nobody knew what to expect,” she said.
“When we found out it was the end of the Sevens programme, it was heart-breaking. We are all desperate to go to the Olympics, and be in the best place possible, so we are currently trying to secure private funding – and that’s ongoing.
“I went through a range of emotions at the time, a lot of uncertainty. What am I going to do with my life? Would I need to go and get a job – a ‘proper job’? I panicked. But then I took a more practical approach and said to myself ‘what’s the rush’? I wanted to make sure that I am doing something that I have passion for and then didi rugby came along.
“didi will give me more of a purpose and it will be great to get young children involved in this sport and also get involved in the local community around Worcester.
Children learn so much from didi
“I have already seen the power of didi rugby and the children learn so much from it, without them even knowing. It gets them active and they always have fun. It’s a tremendously well-run and well-organised programme at didi and I am really looking forward to getting involved.”
Vicky Macqueen added: “It’s just amazing to have Alex involved in the launch of didi rugby Worcester.
“Having been involved with classes in the Reading area, Alex is fully aware of the joy our sessions can bring to both parents and children and she knows our ethos inside out.
“Her determination and drive is obvious and her background in the sport is incredible having been involved in the national set-up for a decade.
“We are proud that she has decided to help us get didi rugby Worcester off the ground and can’t wait for the parents in that area to be able to see just how good our classes are for helping their children develop new skills and confidence in a safe environment.”
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.
Born in Nuneaton, just up the road from the central hub of didi rugby, Vicky Fleetwood is one of England’s most decorated players.
The 31-year-old hooker has 79 caps for her country and plays for Saracens in the Allianz Women’s Premier XVs.
As a child, she was the UK’s top junior hurdler but eventually got into rugby as a player at the age of 14 after being tired of watching her brother play.
Coming from the same Leicestershire School as England international and didi rugby ambassador Manu Tuilagi, Vicky played for Lichfield before moving to Saracens after England’s World Cup final in 2014.
Despite making her England debut in 2011, she raced to 50 caps in just four years.
More recently, Vicky played an important role in the path to success for her country in the 2021 autumn internationals.
Having had prior experience in personal training and diet and nutrition advising, she has now acquired the title of being a professional rugby player.
didi rugby ambassador
Vicky became a didi ambassador because the ethics and ideals of didi rugby are perfect for children’s development.
“I am a huge supporter of didi rugby because I think it is a fantastic way of getting children involved in sport and being active from such a young age. That is vital to their future development,” she said.
“Not only do didi’s staff work on their core skills such as handling, co-ordination and balance during educational games, they will also learn the values of rugby like respect and teamwork.
“In turn, this will build their confidence in their everyday life whether the children go on to play rugby or not. didi rugby will be a positive experience for everyone who gets involved.”