ULSTER captain, Johann Muller, admitted on Tuesday that the death of Nevin Spence and his father and brother in a terrible accident was probably the biggest test any of the players had come across in their careers.
Nevin, an exciting centre with Ulster Rugby with a huge future in the game, died alongside his father, Noel and brother Graham in a tragic accident on their home farm at Drumlough near Hillsborough on September 15.
Since that time the Ulster Squad has been seen standing shoulder to shoulder at the triple funeral a week ago, and again on Sunday when a Memorial Service was held at Ravenhill.
In recent seasons there has been talk of a ‘tightness’ within the current Ulster squad and that togetherness has proven crucial to getting everyone, from the most experienced player in the squad to the youngest, through what has been a difficult time for many.
This week Ulster are preparing to face Cardiff Blues in the RaboDirect PRO12.
Muller said the Spence family tragedy and the death particularly of their team mate Nevin, was “probably the biggest test that all of us has come across in our careers.”
But he added: “It has been good to see these guys in times as tough as this.
“To see the guys stand up and still be the leaders of this team.
“You are only as strong as the leaders in your team and we have got a great bunch of guys.
“A lot of them have put up their hands and taken responsibility. At this stage we have an unbelievable environment in the group.
“Everyone feels comfortable with where we are and there is a lot of trust within the group.”
Reflecting on how he was comforted by one of Nevin’s sisters at the Memorial Service on Sunday, Muller said the Spence family strength and faith had been incredible in how they were dealing with a terrible tragic event.
And he said the message from the family in their display of strength and faith was that they wanted Ulster to move on and to start playing rugby again.
“In South Africa, where I am from, sport had been unbelievable to unite a nation and a tragic event like this can also unite a nation.”
Muller said going forward was about getting out there on Friday night and playing rugby and enjoying it.
In terms of his team talk before the game, Muller said he wanted things to be as normal as they could possibly be.
“I would like to think my team talk would not be any different from any other week.
“There has been huge emotion in the past 10 days and it has been very tough.
“But Nev would want us to move on and start playing again and to enjoy what we are doing.
“He would want us to do it with a smile on our face and that is what we want to do as a group.”
Ulster coach, Mark Anscombe said the Spence family tragedy shocked the whole rugby fraternity.
“It has had an effect on the team, but we have now been back in training for a couple of days.
“Now we move on, that is what Nevin would have done and that is what we will doing as a team.”
Although training has been altered in the past week due to the unforeseen tragic events, Anscombe said: “We will go to Cardiff prepared and we will be ready to play.”