Nevin Spence obituary: Rare talent whose loss is hammer blow to Ulster
Nevin Spence’s death at the age of 22 means Irish rugby has lost a gifted young professional player who had a very bright future in the game.
He died alongside his father Noel and brother Graham in a tragic farming accident.
The men came from several generations of farming stock and were wedded to the land and agriculture.
Graham (30) leaves a wife and two young children behind, while Noel, who was 52, and the two brothers are survived by mother Essie and sisters Emma and Laura.
Nevin began playing rugby at Dromore High School but it was when he moved to Wallace High School in Lisburn that he began to take the game seriously.
Prior to that it had appeared that he might make the grade in a very different sporting code, namely Association Football, in which he was capped for Northern Ireland at U16 level.
Ultimately, rugby won his heart and after leaving Wallace he played for Ballynahinch RFC.
In tandem with that, he was a successful member of Ulster Rugby’s Phoenix Academy and having graduated from that group he made his senior Ulster debut against the Ospreys in April 2010.
He was just 19 when then-Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin, with whom he had worked at Ballynahinch, decided to blood him.
All told, he represented Ulster on 42 occasions, with each of his caps being awarded during McLaughlin’s tenure. That was fitting, for it was McLaughlin who, as coach of Royal Belfast Academical Institution, had first noticed Wallace’s exciting young wing who was to become a centre.
In 2008/09 he was a regular try-scorer for Ballynahinch as they completed a stunning quadruple of senior trophy triumphs, creating 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.
Nevin was central in those successes and he also won 11 caps for Ireland Under-20s, scoring four tries at that level.
Two of those came in March 2010 when Ireland clinched the Six Nations title by beating Scotland 44-15 in Athlone.
He then played in that summer’s IRB Junior World Championship in Argentina and the following October he made his Heineken Cup debut for Ulster against Biarritz Olympique.
His first full season with the Ulster senior squad was 2010/11 and in January and February he made the step up to ‘A’ international-level with run-outs for the O2 Ireland Wolfhounds against Scotland ‘A’ and England Saxons.
He was also called up to train with Ireland head coach Declan Kidney’s Six Nations squad.
Nevin’s talent wasn’t wasted on his fellow professionals. In 2011 they chose him as Young Player of the Year at the Irish Rugby Football Union Players’ Association Awards.
Although injuries curtailed his Ulster involvement last season, nevertheless 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.
Injury delayed his start to the current season, his first — and as fate decreed, final — appearance for Ulster coming as recently as last Friday afternoon when he lined out at inside centre for the Ravens 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.”