A 23-year-old zookeeper who had ‘never been happier in her life’ has tragically died after suffering a head injury during a rugby match.

Lily Partridge sustained the injury during a match on Sunday in Devon and collapsed on the side of the pitch.

Late on Monday night her life support machine was switched off at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital.

Speaking from their home in Exeter the family said:

"She crammed so much into her life and we are so proud of everything she did."

Jeff and Liz Partridge

Lily, who worked as a zookeeper at Shaldon Wildlfe Trust as well as having a teaching assistant role, was one of the first recruits at the Topsham based Exonian Ladies Rugby team. She played hooker and was an ever present except when injured.

Team captain Katie Lunnon said Lily had suffered a couple of concussions previously but had taken out the recommended time from playing and seen a doctor.

“She took a month off and was symptom free before she returned to playing,” said the devastated skipper of the side which has a 45 strong squad.

The circumstances behind the injury remain unclear but Lily did suffer a head injury during a Devon training session match which was being played at North Tawton’s ground on Dartmoor.

Lily had played for the Exonians for around 18 months. Her interest in rugby began with coaching tag rugby when her family lived in Starcross, Devon. Fellow players yesterday said she was ‘incredible and brilliant’ as a player and had become social secretary of the club.

Her parents also spoke fondly about her ‘great gift for laughter’.

“Her mum would laugh and Lily would join in and they would hardly be able to breathe as they belly laughed with tears running down their faces. She had an infectious laugh.

She had gone to university in Bath but soon discovered it wasn’t what she wanted to do and returned to Devon to take on her zoo and teaching roles.

Her family thanked and praised the people who tended to Lily 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."

Topsham Rugby Club

The RFU said:

"Sadly we can confirm that a player suffered fatal injuries following a women’s training event in Devon on Sunday."

Rugby Football Union