“THE LADS HAVE found some time, amongst the build-up, to get along and chat with the students here about the whole experience.”
Those were the words of the head of P.E at Wallace High School in Lisburn in the days leading up to the Heineken Cup Final.
In May of this year, Ulster made their first European final in 13 years.
The focus across the province was how to defeat reigning champions Leinster at Twickenham and the Ulster players trained with particular zeal in the preceding days.
Nonetheless, Nevin Spence, Chris Henry and Ian Whitten still found a spare hour to visit their old school and share some of the excitement and anticipation with the staff and pupils.
In a few days time, students past and present of Wallace H.S will form part of one of the biggest processions the province has ever seen when the funerals of Spence, his brother and his father take place in County Down.
Part of the team
Spence made the step up from schools rugby to All Ireland League action with Ballynahinch and started to create a stir, on the wing,over two seasons before Ulster came calling, in 2010, and a senior cap soon followed.
That year he also travelled to Argentina with Ireland U-20s for the Junior World Cup.
He also received caps for the Ireland Wolfounds team and was elated to get called in to train with the senior international squad in February of this year.
His boundless enthusiasm and a youthful confidence saw him quickly establish himself as a fixture in the matchday 22.
In his first full season he played 21 times, including six European outings, and score a crucial try in an impressive away win over Bath.
He played 18 times last season and often formed an effective centre partnership with Darren Cave.
Within hours of the huge tragedy for the Spence family being announced there was an outpouring of grief and of solidarity.
Rugby players from far and wide, such as former teammate Ian Humphreys, England’s Ben Foden and All Black Dan Carter, took to social media sites to express their condolences.
What will be remembered most by those who were lucky to meet the talented 22-year-old was the infectious energy he brought to proceedings and a desire to not only win, but entertain and engage in the process.