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Rugby community rallies around Spence family

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irishrugby.ie     17 Sep 2012     Getty Images

Billy Glynn, President of the IRFU, said: "This is a terrible tragedy that has struck the Spence family and the thoughts of everybody in Irish rugby are with them at this time.

"Nevin Spence was an outstanding young player which was evident from his progression through the representative ranks and the game has been robbed of a very talented young man.

"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. On behalf of Irish rugby, I would like to offer our heartfelt support to the family, friends and team-mates of Nevin during this difficult time."

Nevin's death at the age of just 22 has shocked the rugby community. He was a gifted young professional rugby player with an extremely bright future in the game.

During his school days, he first started playing rugby for Dromore High School before moving to Wallace High School in Lisburn, and club rugby followed at Ballynahinch RFC.

He made his debut for Ulster against the Ospreys in April 2010, aged just 19, and went on to represent Ulster on 42 occasions.

He came to prominence on a national level with some barnstorming displays for the Ireland Under-20s, scoring four tries in 11 caps at the level, and his club side Ballynahinch in the All-Ireland League.

In the 2008/09 season, he was regular try scorer for Ballynahinch as they completed a stunning quadruple of senior trophy triumphs - they made history by winning the All-Ireland League Division 2 play-off trophy, becoming the first Ulster club to win the AIB Cup and achieving a famous Ulster Senior League and Cup double.

In March 2010, the skilful back scored two tries as the Ireland U-20s clinched the Six Nations title with a 44-15 win over Scotland in Athlone.

Nevin went on to play in that summer's IRB Junior World Championship in Argentina - he was also capped during the previous year's event in Japan - and in October 2010 he made his Heineken Cup debut for Ulster against Biarritz Olympique.

A powerful presence at 6ft and 15 stone, the young Phoenix Ulster Academy graduate enjoyed a successful first full season with the Ulster senior squad during the 2010/11 campaign - he scored a cracking try against Bath and also touched down against Benetton Treviso and the Newport Gwent Dragons (3).

In January and February of 2011, he made the step up to 'A' international level with run-outs for the O2 Ireland Wolfhounds against Scotland 'A' and England Saxons, as well as training with Declan Kidney's Six Nations squad.

Nevin's talent was recognised by his fellow professionals in 2011 when he was named Young Player of the Year at the Irish Rugby Football Union Players' Association Awards.

He played 18 times for his province last season despite injuries curtailing his involvement, playing in the pool stages of the Heineken Cup as Brian McLaughlin's men progressed right through to the final of the tournament.

He won a third Wolfhounds cap against England Saxons and also came on as a replacement in the Ireland XV's non-cap game against the Barbarians in Kingsholm last May, continuing his rapid progress in the green jersey.

Nevin had an injury-interrupted start to the current season and in his final appearance as a proud Ulsterman, he lined out at inside centre for Ulster Ravens last Friday afternoon in a game against Munster 'A' at Deramore Park.

In a statement, Ulster Rugby Chief Executive Shane Logan said: "Nevin was a wonderful player but also a wonderful person. He was well liked by everyone who knew him and his loss will be deeply felt by his team-mates and everyone at Ulster Rugby.

"He will be sorely missed and the thoughts of everyone involved in the game are with his family at this time."