CAPE TOWN – Joost van der Westhuizen, the scrumhalf for the South African side that triumphed at the 1995 Rugby World Cup, died on Monday at age 45 after a long battle with motor neurone disease, his charitable foundation said.
Hailed as one of South Africa’s greatest, Van der Westhuizen played 89 tests between 1993 and 2003 and scored 38 test tries for the Springboks, a record at the time. He captained the team to the bronze medal at the 1999 World Cup.
“Joost will be remembered as one of the greatest Springboks – not only of his generation, but of all time,” SA Rugby President Mark Alexander said in a statement, calling him “one of the best scrumhalves world rugby has ever seen”.
“He also became an inspiration and hero to many fellow sufferers of this terrible disease as well as to those unaffected. We all marvelled at his bravery, his fortitude and his uncomplaining acceptance of this terrible burden.”
Van der Westhuizen was given two-and-a-half years to live when he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a form of motor neurone disease, in 2011.
He put his energy into the J9 Foundation, which seeks to help other suffers cope with the disease.
“It is with great sadness that we confirm the passing of Joost,” the foundation said. “He passed away in his home surrounded by his loved ones.”
His death comes 15 months after that of All Black great Jonah Lomu, who battled against Van der Westhuizen in the 1995 World Cup, but became a good friend off the pitch in later years. Lomu died at 40 due to complications related to a kidney disorder.