Rugby great Joost van der Westhuizen dies

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    07 Feb 2017     Getty Images

Van der Westhuizen, 45, made 89 Test appearances for South Africa, a player who achieved the ranking of best halfback in the world, an acknowledgement of his outstanding ability in his position and his sheer determination, an attribute he carried after his diagnosis with the illness in 2011.

If there was one moment that will live forever in Springbok history it was his try-saving tackle during the Rugby World Cup final in 1995, South Africa's first, on rampant All Black wing Jonah Lomu who had broken the first line of South African defence when coming into the backline from the blindside wing.

But van der Westhuizen was covering the backline in his usual manner and with only himself between Lomu and the goal-line, he managed a superb tackle which shut down the try-scoring effort, a rare chance the All Blacks had to break down the determined home defence.

Lomu visited van der Westhuizen before his own death and told the South African that he had won the Test for the Springboks with his tackle.

South Africa went on to win the final in extra time courtesy of a dropped goal landed by Joel Stransky. That came after the perfect set-up pass from van der Westhuizen.
A big man for a halfback, van der Westhuizen had good speed on the break, backed by great strength, which he used to effect in scoring 38 tries in Test matched. He made his debut in 1993 and played his last Test during the disappointing 2003 season.

He enjoyed great rivalries with All Blacks halfback Justin Marshall and Wallaby George Gregan. At a dinner in his honour Marshall said: "Joost was a magic player. When on song, he could win a game almost single-handedly."

Van der Westhuizen used his illness to heighten awareness of the complaint, setting up the J9 Foundation, the name coming from his playing number.

The foundation acknowledged his death with a message on their Facebook page.

"It is with great sadness that we confirm the passing of Joost. He passed away in his home surrounded by his loved ones. He will be sorely missed."

Stransky said: "He's been such a big part for so many people's lives for such a long time. He fought so bravely."

The president of South Africa Rugby, Mark Alexander, said: "Joost will be remembered as one of the greatest Springboks – not only of his generation, but of all time. He also became an inspiration and hero to many fellow sufferers of this terrible disease. We all marvelled at his bravery, his fortitude and his uncomplaining acceptance of this terrible burden."

Former Springboks team-mate Gary Teichmann said: "Joost was a great team man and was an outstanding ambassador for South African rugby. I will always cherish the memories we shared both on and off the field."

Another teammate, wing James Small said: "He was a special guy…a special rugby talent and he proved to be a very special human being in the manner in which he dealt with what he was given.

"In a game of 15 guys there are always one or two that stand out and Joost was one of them. He never lost it. There are a lot of careers that have highlights but also have lowlights and if you look at Joost…he was never out of form."

New Zealand Rugby Chief Executive Steve Tew said:

“Our thoughts are with his family and in particular his young children Jordan and Kylie as well as with the South African rugby community who have been devastated by his passing and will be mourning him for a long time to come.

“Joost had an incredible playing career and over the course of it, established strong friendships with a lot of New Zealand players. We know they’ll be taking this news hard. He was an inspiration to a lot of people in South Africa and around the world both for his skill and leadership on the field and the courage with which he faced this illness.”