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Magners League: Nevin won’t have to wait too long for Ireland’s call

By Niall Crozier

Nevin Spence’s name will not be one of those read out by Declan Kidney today when he announces the Ireland team and replacements to face Wales on Saturday at the Millennium Stadium.

Nor will he figure against England a week later in Dublin.

But having already earned his spurs at Wolfhounds-level it is now only a matter of time until the 20-year-old Ulster centre breaks into Ireland’s senior side.

A half-match against Scotland ‘A’ in January was followed by a full 80-minute run against England Saxons at the start of February.

His man of the match performance for Ulster in Friday night’s 23-10 Magners League win against Aironi at Ravenhill, saw Spence add to the already-considerable weight of evidence in his favour.

When it comes, and come it will, a full Ireland cap in recognition of his ability as a rugby union player will complete a unique double, for already he has represented Northern Ireland in association football at Under 16-level.

The fact that he now has 16 Ulster rugby appearances to his credit means he has represented his province in both codes.

Now, with Brian O’Driscoll having turned 32 in January, the clock is ticking for the Leinster ace. Knowing that O'Driscoll's magnificent career cannot have too much longer to run, Spence's growing army of admirers see him as Ireland’s Captain Fantastic’s replacement in waiting.

Spence, of course, is far too modest and unassuming to admit to any such feeling on his own part, but he has no difficulty when it comes to confirming that he believes in himself.

At the top end of professional sport, it is vital that one has self-confidence. Spence ticks that box.

Add the fact that he is keen and therefore fully motivated to add to his growing list of honours and achievements and you have another all-important ingredient, namely hunger.

Stir in the necessary skill and ability and the complete package appears.

Asked if he has surprised himself by achieving what he has this season — now an Ulster regular, a twice-capped Wolfhound and called up to train with Ireland’s seniors — he smiles in response to the question.

“You don’t want to sound arrogant, but you try to back yourself. I was lucky in a way; certain things just went for me in terms of getting a break. Everybody needs that and thankfully those things happened for me,” Spence explains.

“As far as I’m concerned, like the team I’m trying not to get carried away. I have no reason to get carried away; I’m just trying to keep my place. At this stage that’s my goal — to keep my place. As a team we’re taking each game as it comes and as an individual that’s what I’m trying to do as well.”

With Ulster’s Heineken Cup quarter-final against Northampton Saints in Milton Keynes now less than five weeks off, supporters have begun to talk about that date with destiny on April 10. You won’t find Spence joining in any such conjectural conversation, however.

“A lot of people are talking about Northampton, but as a team we haven’t mentioned them and we won’t do that until the week before we play them,” he said.

“We’re just taking each game as it comes and hopefully taking the maximum points out of it.”

So right now his priority is getting a win against Newport Gwent Dragons in Ulster’s next match on March 18.

It’s going to be a huge game in that by winning it, Ulster can take a significant stride towards achieving a top four finish and, with that, a place in the semi-finals. Currently Dragons are seventh of the 12 runners, but Spence refuses to read too much into that.

“Dragons have a history of making things difficult for teams,” he warns. “It’s another of those games where supporters might be expecting five points, but from our point of view we know we’ll just have to work very hard.”

So no, he won’t wear the green of Ireland against Wales or England in the next two weekends. It is only a matter of time until he does, however.

Guaranteed Irish centre of the future.

Belfast Telegraph

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