At the age of 71, and just two months ago, Rob Briers took over as president of the Rugby Football Union but not even he – after a 60-year involvement with the game – could have expected an early duty would be to send condolences to a club grieving the loss of a 28-year-old player. But pay tribute he did to Arturas Rudys of Wisbech, and fulsomely.
He told Wisbech Rugby Club chairman Leonard Veenendaal he wanted to thank everyone who came to Arturas’ aid in an attempt to save his life when he died during a home match against Diss.
“I know that the entire club will be shocked and hugely saddened by the death of such a valued member, as will the wider rugby family,” he wrote.
“I am told that over the course of a decade at the club, Arturas impressed with his commitment to training and playing, and was always a cheerful and positive presence at the club.
“He was hugely valued by coaches and captains as a player who would make every effort to play, home and away, and was an important part of the 2015-16 Wildcats wins in the Cambridgeshire County Plate.
“I know that his commitment to his teammates was such that he would play games after a night shift, work overtime to free up Saturday afternoons and often respond to late calls to join the 1st XV squad travelling to league matches.”
Mr Briers added: “Arriving at the club as a teenager for the 2013-14 season, he grew into someone who epitomised rugby’s values and was a role model for younger players and a supportive and valued teammate. Most importantly, together with his partner Jolita, he was a parent to their little son, Emilijus.
“Arturas is a massive loss to your club and our sport, but our loss won’t begin to compare to that of Jolita and Emilijus.”
He said that Arturas “will always be at the heart of the rugby family. I know that Wisbech RFC will be Jolita and for Emilijus during this most challenging time and beyond.
“The RFU wants to provide as much support as possible to the family and your club so please let me know if there is anything further, we can do to help during this difficult time”.
Mr Veenendaal has posted a message of thanks on behalf of the club and Jolita to thank those who have sent “many many messages, emails, phone calls and online posts of love and support which have been gratefully received”.
A GoFundMe plea to support Jolita and her family has so far raised a staggering £27,000 from over 800 donations.
One spectator said his son was playing in the game and his wife was watching.
“They cleared the pitch, and she came home, and I’ve never seen her so shaken. That was before we knew the final outcome. Awful, just awful,” he posted to Facebook.
“The tragedy at the rugby match here in Wisbech puts many other things in perspective. I can’t begin to know what the lad’s family, friends and team-mates must be going through.”
He added: “One of the Wisbech players had a heavy collision contesting a ball. No foul play, but the impact sent him into cardiac arrest. Despite efforts to revive him, he died on the field.”
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