Rugby player and father who died after match was 'forever smiling' and 'one in a million'

Rugby player and father who died after match was ‘forever smiling’ and ‘one in a million’

It’s been a week of unimaginable sorrow in the Swansea valley village of Cwmllynfell.

But it’s also been one where the best of human nature has come to the fore amid an incredible outpouring of support.

The village’s rugby club was hit by tragedy last weekend when their flanker Alex Evans died, aged 31, after suffering a cardiac arrest during a match.

In the week which has followed, there has been pain, there has been grief and there has been huge sadness within the community.

Yet, what has provided comfort and helped in a big way is the “mind-blowing” support from around the rugby world, with the club being bombarded with messages of condolence.

For Cwmllynfell RFC head coach Peter Thomas, it has been a week like no other.

It began with last Saturday’s match at home to Crynant at their Parc y Bryn ground.

The fixture had actually been arranged as a memorial game for a club stalwart who died earlier this year.

“It was a big day for the club, there were lots of people there, there were families there,” said Thomas.

“And then, obviously, this happened.

“Alex went off after about five, 10 minutes into the game, complaining about a tight chest.

“But that was quite normal for him, as he was asthmatic. It happened a lot in training. He would go off and have a puff of his inhaler and come back on.

“But, this time, he went off, the game carried on and about 10-15 minutes before half-time, an ambulance turned up.

“So we knew it was fairly serious, but didn’t know the extent of it.

“Obviously, it escalated so much after that. The match was abandoned at half time and it was a waiting game to see if he would pull through or not.

“Tragically, he didn’t.”

Cwmllynfell RFC player Alex Evans
(Image: Cwmllynfell RFC)

Over the past week, the club and the community have rallied around Alex’s partner Ceri, daughter Ruby and family members.

“My wife and I went down on Monday to see how they were and to spend time with them,” said Thomas.

“At the club then, all the boys met up on Thursday night just to be together and to speak about it.

“We all signed a card to the family and dropped that in to them after meeting up.

“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind, to be honest with you. All the days have rolled into one.

“First of all, there was the shock and the devastation of it actually happening.

“It still hasn’t sunk in.

“It’s one of those things that you see in other sports and you read about, like with the Christian Eriksen incident.

“But it’s just something you never expect to happen to one of your own.

“You see it happen to other people, but when it happens to you, it’s hard, you don’t know how to deal with it.

“People have been stunned.

“Cwmllynfell is a tiny little village. I think it’s around 1,400 people.

“It’s your classic Welsh village where everybody knows everybody’s business, everybody knows each other, it’s extremely tight-knit and rugby is a massive part of it.

“People are still trying to wrap their heads around it. It was such a shock and so tragic. We are all devastated.

“It’s been eerie, quiet and unimaginable. It’s all still so raw.”

But what has helped in a big way is the reaction from far and wide.

“The club has got social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and they haven’t stopped,” said Thomas.

“We’ve had thousands and thousands of messages on all three platforms. It’s been mind-blowing.

“I’ve had text messages from people I have never met, who I’ve never heard of in my life, all offering their support and condolence. It’s been incredible.

“We’ve had messages from Japan, Australia, France, many, many English clubs and the Welsh clubs have been incredible.

“Teams who we deem as rivals on the pitch, who we have had battles with over the years, have been incredibly supportive, not just emotionally but in terms of money with the Go Fund Me page we have set up for Alex’s family.

“We have had messages off Shane Williams, James Hook, Marcus Smith.

“It’s been nice seeing the amount of support people are giving to the family and to the club.

“We just want to thank everyone for their support because it has been comforting.

“It’s not just been from the rugby community, but clubs and organisations and people in general.

“It’s been non-stop all week.

“I have read every single message, I have been through everything.

“I have looked at old videos of when Alex started playing.

“Personally for me, that’s been a good way for me to deal with it.

“Obviously it’s been incredibly tough on everybody, Alex’s family, the club and everyone in the village and everybody who knew him.

“But we are so grateful for all the messages of support and condolence. It has been a comfort to everybody during this past week.”

An openside flanker, Evans joined Cwmllynfell RFC in 2017.

“He gave up playing darts because he wanted to play rugby,” said Thomas.

“Alex was quite a small man in stature, but he wouldn’t shirk anything, he got stuck into everything.

“He was a ball of energy, bouncing around the place and forever smiling. He always had a cheeky grin on his face.

“Alex never changed from the moment I first met him to the day he passed.

“He was exactly the same, a massive character. He was a one in a million.”

Evans’ funeral will be held on Thursday, September 9, with a public service at Cwmllynfell RFC at 11am followed by cremation at Morriston Crematorium at 12.30pm.

It will be invitation-only at the Crematorium, but all are welcome to listen to the service via the external speakers.

“There will 60 allowed inside Morriston Crematorium,” said Thomas.

“They are having a service before that up on the rugby pitch for everybody, whoever wants to go.

“I would imagine there will be huge turnout for that, absolutely massive.

“Alex was so well liked by everybody.

“He was a keen darts player before he played rugby, so he’s got that community as well, along with his friends from outside sport, while obviously the rugby community is massive.”

As for Cwmllynfell RFC, they are now taking a break from playing, but the intention is to return later in the year and to honour Alex’s memory in the process.

“We didn’t enter the national cup,” said Thomas.

“We had a few friendlies planned for September, but with the league starting up on November 13, we will wait until then, maybe with a couple of warm-up games beforehand.

“It all depends on the frame of mind of the boys.

“We won’t start playing until everybody’s ready.

“But we’ve had boys who had finished playing due to Covid now saying they want to come back and have another go just to play for Alex.

“The family would 100 per cent want the club to carry on and play in his memory.”

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