Rob Walton, who played for Birmingham & Solihull in their 2004 Powergen Cup quarter-final win at Wasps, has died in a swimming accident while on holiday in France.
Walton, a 36-year-old father of four, is believed to have suffered fatal whiplash injuries when he was struck by a powerful wave while he was body boarding in a supervised swimming area at Labenne near Biarritz.
Walton, known to his friends as Horse, was player and head coach of Rugby Lions having started his career with Hinckley, his hometown club. He also had stints with Coventry and Rotherham and had just completed his second season with Rugby, guiding them to two successive league titles and the final of the RFU Junior Vase in 2014.
He was highly regarded as a player, coach and person with Alex Davidson, the director of rugby of Luctonians, among the former team-mates who paid tribute on social media.
“Devastated. Always enjoyed Horse’s friendship and playing alongside him. Top bloke, great memories, huge loss to the game. Thoughts to his family,” Davidson wrote on Facebook.
Craig Chalmers, the former Scotland and British Lions fly-half who ended his playing career at theBees, wrote: “Shocking news! Such a lovely big fella. Thoughts are with his family. RIP Horse.”
Birmingham & Solihull posted this tribute on their website: “The club was deeply saddened to hear the news regarding Rob Walton.
“Rob, who was a highly popular second row forward with the club in the early noughties, died in tragic circumstances while swimming off the wothwest coast of France yesterday.
“Rob, or Horse as he was affectionately known by many at the club, will be remembered as a great player, a wonderful individual and a fantastic clubman.
“He attended the former players’ dinner this year and was an integral part of the side who reached the Powergen Cup semi-finals in 2004.
“Our thoughts are with his wife Gemma and his young family.”