ABU DHABI // The death of Marco Speranza at the age of 20 has robbed rugby of "an exceptional bloke" and a "true club man," according to his former colleagues with the Abu Dhabi Harlequins.
The Harlequins' first team will observe a minute's silence ahead of their match against the Jebel Ali Dragons on Friday afternoon, in memory of their former wing.
Speranza, who lived in Abu Dhabi from his early teens until returning to his native Argentina to study last summer, died in an aircraft accident in his homeland last week.
Members of the Harlequins have paid tribute to a player who had never played the sport at all before arriving in the capital and attending Cambridge School, yet who bloomed into a senior first XV player within four years.
"He was an exceptional player on the field but more importantly he was an exceptional bloke off it," said Rory Greene, the former Harlequins chairman who coached Speranza at age-group level.
"His company was great, he worked hard in training, and it was all about the team for him. If he was not picked in the first team, he would never complain.
"He would just try harder."
Speranza was a key figure in the side Greene coached that won the Gulf Under 19 competition in 2009 at the Dubai Rugby Sevens.
"That was a big day for all the boys, playing in front of 40,000 people on Pitch 1 at The Sevens," Greene said.
"He was lost tragically young, but at least he had that fantastic rugby experience - no doubt among many others he had at the club.
"He came to rugby quite late, not starting until he was under 15s. To go from being new to rugby to, within four or five years, winning Dubai Sevens and breaking into the senior ranks shows what talent he had. It is tragic that talent will not be able to be developed."
The domestic rugby community has been afflicted by a number of tragic losses in recent years.
The annual curtain-raiser to the UAE rugby season is the Jamie Black Memorial match, played in honour of the former Dubai Hurricanes player.
In August 2011, Jon Beeton, a centre for the Dubai Exiles and UAE national team, died following injuries sustained in a boating accident.
According to Alistair Thompson, the former captain of the Harlequins, who was also the first-team coach when Speranza made his debut, the game has lost "an all-round nice guy".
"It is a real tragedy, but I have very fond memories of Marco when he was 17 playing in the first team," said Thompson, a teacher at British School Al Khubairat.
"In the next couple of seasons we saw him mature, then last season he played with us before going off to university and he was no longer a young lad.
"He was an all-round nice guy. It is not nice when a member of the rugby brotherhood passes away prematurely and in Marco's case it was very premature.
"It is a big loss."
Speranza's return to Argentina for further education last year meant the Harlequins were losing not only a promising young wing, but also a player with the club at heart.
"He had bags of pace, was ever improving and the best thing you could say about him was he was a true club man," said Chris Davies, the Harlequins director of rugby.
"He wore his heart on his sleeve, gave his all and set an example to any young players coming through - and even to the senior guys.
"At the drop of a hat he would do anything to play, that was what he was like."
It is fitting that today's opponents are the Dragons.
Having just graduated to the first team, Speranza scored one of the tries in a 44-22 win for the Harlequins at Jebel Ali that proved pivotal to them winning this competition last season.
"He scored a cracking try against the Dragons last season, in a game that was the turning point of our season," Davies said.
"He was a massive part of the first team and a massive loss when he left, even though we kept in contact with him.
"It is a sad time for the club."
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