The Toyota Cheetahs coach, Franco Smith, remembers the late Springbok great, Joost van der Westhuizen, as a legend both on and off the field. Van der Westhuizen lost his long battle to motor neuron disease on Monday, two weeks shy of his birthday.
The World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee’s battle with the dreaded illness was well documented after he became an active campaigner for causes relating to it through creating the J9 Foundation.
Smith played with Van der Westhuizen for both the Springboks and the Bulls and during that time they also became good friends.
Speaking to Courant about the Springbok great, Smith said that he saw the influential number 9 as an inspiration.
“What a privilege to comment on a guy like Joost van der Westhuizen,” said Smith. “We were very big friends, especially when I was at the Bulls. We went on holiday to the Seychelles together and he was a really great guy.
“He meant a lot to South African rugby. He must be one of the most competitive players I’ve ever played with. He’s determination was something that I will remember. He always set the example and I keenly followed it.”
Smith added that Van der Westhuizen wasn’t just an influential person on the field, but took the time and effort to be a good person off it as well.
“He was somebody that would take time to congratulate you on your birthday and he was just an all-round good person.
“The fact that he has had the time over the last six years to set up the J9 Foundation proves his quality as person and I think he was a legend on and off the field. We’re going to miss him in South African rugby.”
Another legendary Free State player and former Springbok fullback, Gysie Pienaar, also remembers the inspirational half-back for his ability on the field and rates him as the best ever in his position. Pienaar was an assistant coach to the Springboks when they won the 1995 Rugby World Cup, and he is proud to have called him a friend.
“I must say, it was a privilege for me to be a friend of Joost as well as being his coach for a few years. It doesn’t matter what he did, he always gave more than a 100%.
“He was an incredible rugby player, the most talented player and probably the best scrumhalf South Africa has ever produced. That’s how I will remember Joost.”
While Van der Westhuizen was far from being a Free Stater or having played for the Free State, his influence on the game was worldwide and he was a hero to unaccountable aspiring players of the past and present.
His playing honours include winning the World Cup ’95, the Tri-Nations title ’98, two Currie Cup titles, as well as being a member of the South African Rugby team at three Rugby World Cups.
He is also one of a few Springboks to have been inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame.
Van der Westhuizen has died at 45 years old and leaves behind his son, Jordan, and his daughter, Kylie.
Rest in peace, Joost. – MORGAN PIEK