Belfast Telegraph

Monday 29 December 2014

Spence ready to get his teenage kicks for Ulster

Nineteen-year-old Nevin Spence is thrilled to bits with his elevation to the Ulster starting XV against Glasgow.

Brian McLaughlin’s side hasn’t set the world alight in recent months, but there were signs against the Ospreys that they may just have turned the corner.

Ironically Spence, a former pupil of Wallace High School and a Ballynahinch man through and through, is in the form of his life and was a star turn with Ireland Under-20s earlier in the season.

Scotland, in particular, were on the receiving end as the big, strong-running centre repeatedly cut their defence to shreds scoring two first-half tries and setting up another.

Spence initially began his rugby career at Dromore High School where he came under the watchful eye of both Charlie McAleese and Jacques Benade.

Next stop was Wallace High School where he first met up with Derek Suffern and Neil Hynds, while he then renewed acquaintance with Suffern and Dan Soper at Ballynahinch.

The latest man to be handed his opportunity with Ulster deserves huge credit for getting this far so quickly.

For in his relatively short career he’s had to cope with more than his share of injuries, including back, neck and wrist, but now his whole focus is on carving out a career with Ulster.

Modest and unassuming to a fault he’s equally at home on the wing or in the centre.

And he’s not just a powerful, centre for he’s blessed with the ability and the vision to create space in the tightest of situations.

Going forward he’s a genuine threat, but defensively he’s equally impressive.

Only last season he was a central figure as Ballynahinch seemed to win everything in sight, Spence conjuring up tries with the greatest of ease.

He also possesses a wonderful temperament which should serve him well in his first 80 minutes with the province.

Ulster’s season so far has been a strange mix of the ridiculous and the sublime.

The latter was there for all to savour and enjoy in the home Heineken victory over Stade Francais and the equally impressive victory away to Bath.

Since then, however, the graph on the wall sadly tells of a steady decline in the team’s fortunes.

The reasons are many and varied leaving coach McLaughlin with endless headaches, but maybe, just maybe, there was light at the end of the tunnel in Tuesday night’s display against the Ospreys, a side studded with star names including an assortment of All Blacks and Lions.

Even in defeat there were signs that there was an improvement and that their season might yet end with a flourish.

Tonight in Glasgow nothing less less than a win will suffice with Connacht breathing down their necks in the race to claim Ireland’s third Heineken Cup place next season.

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