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Devon female rugby player dies after head injury in training session

The Guardian logo The Guardian 8/12/2015 Steven Morris and agency

A talented female rugby player has died after suffering a head injury during a training session for her county squad.

Lily Partridge, 23, a zookeeper and teaching assistant, described as a “brilliant star” by her family, sustained the injury during the session in Devon and collapsed on the side of the pitch.

She was airlifted to hospital but her life-support machine was turned off approximately 24 hours later at the Royal Devon and Exeter hospital.

Her parents, Jeff and Liz, and her younger sister Lauren said Partridge carried two donor cards and her organs had been donated to help others.

They said: “Hopefully one, two, three or more people will have a better quality of life, thanks to Lily. She has given this gift of life to several people, which is the best present ever, especially at this time of year. She has given all her life, and still gave even after her death.

“That was Lily all over, selfless. She picked up her first donor card when she was a pupil at Torquay girls’ grammar school and then another one at the Devon county show. She crammed so much into her 23 years. We are so proud of everything she did.

“No one ever had a bad word to say about Lily. She was the glue that stuck everyone together. She was her own person and that is what we loved about her. She broke down barriers. She was a brilliant star in our lives for 23 years.”

Lily Partridge died after sustaining a head injury while training with Devon County. © Apex Lily Partridge died after sustaining a head injury while training with Devon County.

Partridge, who worked as a zookeeper at Shaldon Wildlfe Trust near Teignmouth in Devon and also had a post as a teaching assistant, was one of the first recruits at the Exonian Ladies rugby team, based in Topsham, near Exeter, and played hooker.

The team’s captain, Katie Lunnon, said Partridge had suffered a couple of concussions previously but had taken the recommended time-out from playing and had seen a doctor. Lunnon said: “She took a month off and was symptom-free before she returned to playing.”

The circumstances behind the injury are still unclear but Lily was hurt on Sunday afternoon during a session with Devon Ladies at North Tawton’s rugby club on Dartmoor.

Partridge had played for the Exonians for about 18 months. In her player profile, she said: “I am a zoo keeper at Shaldon Wildlife Trust and I specialise in primates. I have always loved rugby – playing and coaching tag when I was younger – but never had an opportunity to play until Exonian Ladies was formed.”

Her family thanked and praised the people who tended to Partridge at the rugby pitch and the Exeter hospital medical staff who cared for her after she was flown there for treatment.

A statement from Topsham rugby club said: “We are devastated to hear that Lily Partridge, a talented, vivacious and universally loved founding member of Exonian Ladies rugby team, has died following a training session for Devon Ladies.

“Lily was an integral part of building our ladies’ team into a huge success and all of us who knew her are utterly heartbroken. The void that has been left in the hearts of her teammates and the wider club will be impossible to fill. We extend our deepest sympathies to Lily’s family and friends.”

The sports governing body, the RFU, said: “Sadly we can confirm that a player suffered fatal injuries following a women’s training event in Devon on Sunday.” 

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