Nevin Spence: Rugby player with a promising future

 

Nevin Spence, a 22-year-old rugby union player from County Down in Northern Ireland, appeared destined for a fruitful and internationally recognised career before he died with his father, Noel, 58, and brother Graham, 30, in a tragic accident in the slurry tank on the family farm.

A wing-turned-centre whose burgeoning talent went hand in hand with the resurgence of his province, Ulster, on the European rugby scene, Spence had begun his third senior season by playing 70 minutes for Ulster's A team, the Ravens, against Munster A at Deramore Park in south Belfast on the day before he died. The summer had been a time of rehabilitation from a shoulder operation; Spence had also been appointed a brand ambassador for the Dairy Council of Northern Ireland, but while he featured in a light-hearted photo shoot with cows on the farm in Hillsborough his relations affectionately acknowledged that he was "just a part-time milker".

Rugby was Spence's chosen career, and the apex to date had been an appearance for an Ireland XV in the uncapped match against the Barbarians at Gloucester in May. He was a replacement covering his fellow Ulster centres Paddy Wallace and Darren Cave and he came on for another Ulster player, the wing Craig Gilroy, for the final few minutes of a 29-28 defeat. Having made two appearances for Ireland's second XV, the Wolfhounds, in 2011 against Scotland A and England Saxons, and a third against the Saxons again in January 2012, Spence was set for a sustained tilt at full senior caps.

He represented Ireland at centre in each of their five matches in the 2010 Under-20 Six Nations Championship – which they won – scoring a try against Italy and another two in the 44-15 defeat of Scotland that sealed the title. In between there was a 25-10 win over England U-20 at Gloucester, after which the Rugby Football Union match report noted: "Nevin Spence beat tackles to get Ireland in the right half of the field." It was an apt summary of the strong running and aggressive tackling that the 6ft tall and 15 stone Spence brought to his attack and defence, adding physical substance to his eye-catching thatch of white-blond hair and breezy, earnest character. He continued to represent the Under-20s in the IRB Junior World Championship in Argentina in summer 2010, when they recovered from a disappointing pool phase to beat Samoa 37-10 and Scotland 53-23 and finish ninth.

Spence hadbeen proficient at two codes at Dromore High School and he represented Northern Ireland's Under-16s in football, playing at right-back in the team that beat England in 2005. Manchester City were one of the clubs said to have shown an interest in signing him. But with his mother Essie's encouragement he left Dromore in 2006 to go to Wallace High School in Lisburn for his A-levels, and his rugby flourished there. A hat-trick of tries in the quarter-finals of the Ulster Senior Schools Cup helped Wallace to a semi-final at Ravenhill in Belfast – Spence's first taste of the famous old rugby ground he would relish playing at many more times among his 42 appearances (scoring five tries) in the white jersey of Ulster.

He played for Ulster Schools and Irish Schools, and his powerful performances for Ballynahinch – where his brother Graham was renowned already for the "Spence hand-off" – went along with joining Ulster's Rugby Academy in 2008. In May 2011 Nevin was recognised by his peers in the Irish Rugby Union Players' Association as Young Player of the Year, having been Ulster's Academy Player of the Year a year earlier.

After a senior debut for Ulster near the end of the 2009-10 season, Spence had his breakthrough proper in 2010-11. He played more than 20 times for Ulster, scoring a try finished with a somersault in a win away to Bath in the Heineken Cup in December 2010 and playing alongside Wallace in the quarter-finals in a narrow loss to the eventual finalists Northampton. He was called to train with the Ireland squad for the 2011 Six Nations.

The 2011-12 season was disrupted by injury, and Spence – a committed Christian who was a member of Ballynahinch Baptist Church – finished it as only the 24th man for Ulster's Heineken Cup final against Leinster at Twickenham in May. But his rich promise had earned him starts in three of Ulster's six pool matches against Leicester, and Aironi, twice. David Humphreys, the former Ireland fly-half who is now Ulster's director of rugby, said: "Nevin was a dream player to work with. He was the epitome of what we were looking for."

Hugh Godwin

Nevin Spence, rugby union player: born 26 April 1990; died 15 September 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk