An all-round sportsman and a bright young star in Irish rugby
NEVIN SPENCE:NEVIN SPENCE, who has been killed in a farm accident, was one of the brightest young stars in Irish rugby.
The Down man (22) was regarded as a full future Irish international. In 2011, he played twice for Ireland A (Wolfhounds) against Scotland and England and he also took part in training sessions with Declan Kidney’s Six Nations squad.
He won 11 caps for Ireland under-20s, scoring four tries at that level, but it is as a successful player for the Ulster rugby team that Spence is best remembered. He played over 20 games for Ulster in the 2010-11 season, scoring an impressive try against Bath in the Heineken Cup, and quickly became an established member of the side. In total, he played for Ulster 42 times.
Born on April 26th, 1990, Spence was known as a talented all-round sportsman, who played with enthusiasm and grit. Although he made the decision to prioritise rugby while still at Wallace High School in Lisburn, he also represented Northern Ireland in football at youth level.
In his first year out of school, Spence played under-20 rugby for Ireland and became a member of the Ulster Academy. Aged 19, he made his full Ulster debut towards the end of the 2009-10 season, coming on as a replacement against the Ospreys, a Welsh side, in the Magners League.
Spence was voted Young Player of the Year by the Irish Rugby Union Players Association in 2011.
His last game was on September 14th when he played for Ulster Ravens against Munster A at Deramore Park in Belfast.
Spence was a committed Christian and regularly attended Ballynahinch Baptist Church. He died alongside his brother Graham (30) and his father Noel (58), in a slurry tank accident at the family farm in Hillsborough, Co Down.
At the funeral, Spence’s sister Emma (28), who survived the accident, described the three as “godly men”. She said “they didn’t talk about God, they just did God. They were just ordinary, but God made them extraordinary.” She said her brother Nevin was known as “Wee Nev”.
“He was the one who sarcastically got named ‘the superstar’ at home. He’s the one who did not love the limelight but handled it like a pro. He is the A-grade pupil . . . To me he is the one Mum had the organic blueberries and prize-winning steak for when he called.”
Many fans laid scarves and flowers in memory of Nevin Spence at Ulster’s home ground, Ravenhill, while books of condolence have been opened both at Ravenhill and at Ballynahinch rugby club for the three men.
Shane Logan, chief executive of Ulster Rugby, said that Spence was “an exceptional young man . . . with an immense future in front of him and we know that because in his 22 years, he was a model professional and a model individual . . . a man of absolute integrity, complete determination, great humility, a fine team player and an all-round exceptional individual”.
IRFU president Billy Glynn said: “The rugby community in Ireland is a very close-knit one and there has been widespread shock and an outpouring of grief at this news.”
In an email sent to the Spence family’s pastor Rodney Stout, and read out at the funeral, David Humphreys, the former Irish international and director of Professional Rugby at Ulster Rugby, said: “Nevin Spence was a highly skilful and gifted rugby player, who was utterly committed to Ulster and enormously proud to represent his province.
“He was determined to be the best that he could be and I have no doubt that he could have gone on to play for Ireland on many occasions.”
Humphreys said that Spence inspired others with his sheer will to win, adding that his positive approach to life brought a smile to people’s faces. “He was kind, he was polite, he was generous and courageous and we were so blessed to have him on our team.”
Humphreys went on to say that “whatever else happens with Ulster rugby, as long as the club exists, the person and the player Nevin Spence will never be forgotten.”
He is survived by his mother, Essie, and sisters Emma and Laura.
Nevin Spence: born April 26th, 1990; died September 15th, 2012.