For years, these gorgeous girls have happily stood on the sidelines as their rugby-star husbands took centre stage, but Daisy Dagg and Amber Vito are now stepping into the spotlight in their own right.
As Amber’s partner Victor Vito gears up for the Rugby World Cup in London later this month and Daisy’s high-school sweetheart Israel Dagg gets back to playing for his beloved Hawke’s Bay Magpies, the girls are getting excited for a project all of their own – the release of their very first cookbook, aptly named The Rugby Pantry.
“I’ve always kind of been in the shadows of Izzy’s career,” newlywed Daisy tells Woman’s Day during our exclusive photo shoot. “It’s really nice to have something that’s just for me. Obviously, we know people are interested in the boys and we know people will say, ‘Oh, they’ve just got a cookbook because of their husbands,’ but we wouldn’t have it if we couldn’t cook.”
Their book, which features 90 tried and true recipes, focuses on simple, wholesome food, most of which can be prepared in less than 30 minutes.
“We’re not trying to pretend we know it all when it comes to food,” says Daisy, 26. “We’re not trying to be chefs, but we do want to inspire people to cook. Neither of us follow dieting fads or anything like that. We believe in everything in moderation, both healthy measures and guilty pleasures, and that’s what this book is all about.”
After meeting their rugby-mad partners in their teens, Daisy and Amber first bonded back in 2010, when the boys both made the All Blacks at the same time.
“We became friends really quickly,” recalls Amber, 26. “You kind of find yourself thrown into a completely different situation with the All Blacks. The boys start travelling so much and it’s nice to have someone who totally understands.”
With hungry professional athletes to feed, the girls are first to admit their food journey began out of necessity.
“For me, when I moved in with Victor, I realised I had to start learning to cook,” says communications executive Amber. “Like everyone else, I had my years at university of eating rubbish, but I started to get it together when we lived together.”
It wasn’t until a European jaunt in 2012 that the girls realised their need to feed their partners had turned into a passion and they made a decision to turn their foodie dreams into reality.
“We were eating pizza in Rome when we started talking about it,” new mum Amber explains. “We’d been travelling for a few weeks with the boys and eating all this incredible food when we got the idea to start the The Rugby Pantry Facebook page, basically just a place we could share all the recipes we’ve picked up over the years. The response was really positive. Everything else has just grown from there.”
Being known for something other than being All Black WAGS [wives and girlfriends] is icing on the cake, says Daisy, who also owns an interior-design business.
“That’s one of the hard things in life. You want to be able to succeed in your own right – and I know Amber and I have lots of our own talents to celebrate outside of being rugby wives.”
But while the girls love their lives beyond the sporting spotlight, there’s no escaping how intimately involved they are with their men’s careers. “It was a really tough blow when Izzy didn’t make the World Cup team,” admits Daisy, “and a hard few days afterwards, but we are looking at the positives.”
We did it!
And with The Rugby Pantry now on stands after a year in the making, there are plenty of good things to focus on. “We’re so happy to have it all finally together,” says Amber. “It was two months of pretty intensive testing and trialling at the end of last year, but we got it all together in the end.”
She was pregnant with her son Karlos, now seven months old, while the book was being put together – and Daisy was equally busy planning her wedding and a new house on top of getting all her recipes together.
“It was a pretty hectic year, but it’s really nice that we could include so many personal recipes,” says Daisy. “I’ve got Izzy’s pre-game chicken teriyaki in there. He insists on eating it before every match.”
“And I’ve got lots of family recipes,” Amber adds. “My parents opened New Zealand’s first gluten-free bakery in Nelson when I was little and that has inspired a lot of what I like to cook.”
There certainly weren’t any complaints from Israel and Victor about all the taste-testing that went on. “They’ve loved it,” laughs Amber. “They have been very happy having all manner of yummy meals cooked for them!”
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