TRIBUTES have been paid to former Ebbw Vale rugby player Lee Banks after his death at the age of 38.
A statement from Ebbw Vale RFC reads: “Everyone at Ebbw Vale RFC was deeply saddened to learn of the sudden death of former player Lee Banks last weekend while on holiday in Tunisia with his wife and young children.”
Banks’ good friend Nigel Way, who coached him at Abertillery Youth and then at Ebbw Vale, said: “Lee was a giant of a player and a giant of a man.
“He listened to advice and was simply a dream of a rugby player to coach.
“He was large in stature and had an infectious personality, but was also happy to be in the background and always cared about his teammates.
“I first met Lee when he joined Abertillery Youth and it was apparent that this larger than usual youngster was going to be special.
“He soon gained a Wales under-18 cap at a packed Waterton Cross ground in Bridgend, when Lee and his best friend Shaun Connor proudly played against Ireland.”
Way added: “On leaving the youth team he joined me and Leigh Jones at Ebbw Vale and was an essential part of our powerhouse, playing with other great second rows like Chay Billen and Kuli Faletau.
“He featured in many of our famous victories in Europe, including the unforgettable home win over Toulouse, and was in the squad that played in the 1998 cup final versus Llanelli in Bristol.
“A recurring back injury robbed Lee of a promising professional rugby career where he would surely have gone on to win major honours in the game.
“The loss of such a warm, friendly and sociable young man is extremely hard to bear and is something I, and the staff and his teammates at Ebbw Vale will always struggle to come to terms with. We have lost one of the very best.”
Ebbw Vale club secretary Ian James said: “Personally I always found Lee the most approachable and unassuming man and I'm sure all associated with Ebbw Vale RFC will wish to send their sincerest condolences to his family and friends.”
No date has yet been set for the funeral.