Ulster’s Director of Rugby David Humphreys paid tribute to Nevin Spence’s commitment to his home province.
“As a Director of Rugby, Nevin was a dream player to work with. He was one of those players you sat down to talk about what his future held, where he saw his future going,” said a visibly moved Humphreys.
“He had a very simple answer: he was born in Ulster, he came through school in Ulster, he played rugby for Ulster and all he wanted to do for the remainder of his career was to stay here, win trophies and be successful for Ulster
“We are all devastated by the loss of Nevin. Our prayers and sympathies are very much with the Spence family at this moment in time.”
Outlining the player’s pedigree and progress in his time with Ulster, Humphreys continued: “In 2008 he came into our Academy and I took a very personal interest as that coincided with my retirement.
“I remember sitting down with Gary Longwell just after I started my job and we were talking about our succession plan and where we were going to go as a squad.
“He said, ‘One of the players who will come through and play for Ireland is Nevin Spence.’
“Unfortunately, with the events of the last 24 hours, it is never going to come to that point.
“For all of those of you who have followed Ulster Rugby, for those of you who followed Nevin’s career on the pitch, what you saw was what you got with him. He brought his commitment, his passion, his enthusiasm every time he played.
“Not just when he played, but every time he turned up for training. Talking to some of the players over the last 24 hours, Nevin will be missed because on days when nobody else wanted to come and train, he was there, leading from the front.”
Humphreys highlighted the player’s invaluable off-field role, too, saying: “He played a central role on the pitch in our success over the course of the last three years.
“Probably more importantly, in terms of what we’re trying to develop in the culture in Ulster Rugby, Nevin was the epitome of what we were looking for.
“The characteristics that he showed when he played were very much transmitted into how he conducted himself off the pitch.
“When we asked him to do commercial and corporate duties — things that players generally don’t particularly enjoy — he was the first to volunteer. It didn’t matter if he was playing for his club (Ballynahinch), for Ulster Ravens as he was last Friday evening or for the senior team, everybody knew that Nevin was going to come and perform to his very best.”
And in a moving tribute he added: “From my perspective and from the players’ perspective, Nevin’s death will leave a huge hole in the squad and I have no doubt that Ulster Rugby will be a poorer place without him.”