THE Bridgwater & Albion Rugby Club community is mourning the sad loss of club stalwart Dave Norman, who died suddenly at the age of 46 on Wednesday, writes Richard Walsh.

Born on September 21, 1973, Dave grew up through the club’s Minis and Junior ranks and played in the Colts before graduating into Albion’s senior teams, where he had been part of the squad for many years.

Naturally a hooker but well capable of being on either side of the front row as well as in the back row, Dave always made a full contribution to every game he played in.

He was an outstanding team-mate and other players knew that he would give his all and he could be relied on to lead from the front.

Dave captained the 3rd XV, affectionately known as the Dirtrackers, and was a disciple of the team’s late manager Jack Smith; together they ensured that the side remained strong and competitive.

He made his 1st XV debut on September 2, 2000, at Keynsham in South West 1 and in all made 19 appearances in the club’s first team.

Despite these few appearances at the top - the majority were at a time when the club needed his skills and durability when encountering problems in their front row personnel - Dave readily stepped up to the mark and never let the side down.

He made his last 1st XV appearance on February 3, 2018, as a replacement against Exeter University - one of his four appearances that season.

Dave amassed more than 200 tries in his career of around 700 games.

In recent times Dave had taken to coaching the Bridgwater Ladies XV in which his wife Karen is making excellent progress as a player, and under his guidance the team has been developing well.

Club president Mike Berry said: “Dave was always a keen and extremely capable player and ought to have enhanced his 1st XV career much more than actually happened.

“However, he was always content to turn out for the club whenever and wherever required, and in whatever side and indeed in a variety of positions.

“Dave was well known on the Somerset league circuit and was a highly respected opponent from all clubs whom he encountered.

“His hard but very fair style of play and enthusiasm, energy and wit regaled his opponents and, as a result, the spirit of the games in which he played meant enjoyment for all concerned.

“He has lit up both the Broadway Ground and College Way over 30-plus years with his considerable energy, enthusiasm and skills, and he will be sadly missed both on and off the field, where he was an extremely popular member of the club.

“The club extends its sincere sympathies and condolences to Karen and her family, and also to parents Rex and Carol Norman and sister Sally, who have also been involved and connected with the club for many seasons.”

Albion director of rugby Geoff Sluman added: “We are all in a state of disbelief at the moment because we have suddenly lost a valued friend and loved one.

“Nobody can imagine our club without Dave at its core and his loss will be felt by so many.

“His space in the changing room and his favourite place at the bar is now empty and it’s just no longer the same.

“Our thoughts and love go out to Karen and the rest of the family.

“Without doubt, we all will do whatever needs doing to help and support them at this impossibly difficult time.”

Sluman went on: “Dave captained our second team while I was coaching and I developed a close relationship with him at that time - he is a genuine and traditional rugby guy.

“As everyone knows he has gone into coaching himself lately with the Ladies team.

“I only exchanged messages with him a couple of days before his death about progress of the Ladies team, and his plans for training that week and his plans for the rest of the season.

“I have re-read those messages in the last few days as it shows Dave at his best and being passionate about rugby and what he was doing - nothing by halves and with the best intentions for others foremost in his mind.

“Our second team played on Friday night and no-one wore Dave’s shirt number out of respect and a tribute to him.

“How we quite get through the coming days we are not sure, but on behalf of myself, all the players and the wider club we all send our very deepest condolences and sympathy to Dave’s wife Karen, his parents Rex and Carol, his sister, his children and the rest of the family.

“I would also like to say a big thank you to the wider rugby community for all the messages of condolences the club and family have received from other local clubs - too many clubs to mention, demonstrating just how popular Dave was.

“We have taken some time to reflect on how best to proceed with what feel like very irrelevant rugby games.

“Dave never missed a game and we believe he would not want us to miss games either.

“It will be difficult, but we will try and carry on - this also represents his wife’s Karen wish that rugby should go ahead - and it is what Dave loved.”