The big servant of Free State rugby and finest scrum technician of them all, Dougie Heymans, has become the latest legend of the game to succumb to Covid-19.
Heymans, who had been in the intensive care unit at Mediclinic in Bloemfontein for less than a week, lost his battle to the virus on Monday at the age of 58 years. On Monday afternoon Heymans developed a blood clot in his lungs and he passed away a short while later.
Regarded by many as the toughest man in the scrum in the domestic game during his time, he played in 154 games for the Free State in the demanding position of tighthead prop where a player needs to be perfectly dialed in on his technical ability and to make the most of his natural power.
Last week, the news emerged that the former Free State loose-forward, Jannie Els, had also lost his life to Covid-19 at the age of 60. Unlike Heymans, Els was famously known for punching Naas Botha in a Currie Cup match between the Free State and the then Northern Transvaal (Blue Bulls) in Bloemfontein.
In the 1980s, apart from playing his rugby for the Free State, Heymans also represented the University of the Free State Shimlas, and up until his untimely death was actively involved at the club, while also working in the sports department at the institution.
“All I can say is, we honor the legacy of Dougie Heymans,” said Marius van Rensburg, the chairman of Shimlas rugby.
“A man with unbelievable work ethics and unconditional love for the Shimlas and rugby at the University of the Free State in general. Our hearts go out to Ilse, the children and all his friends and colleagues.”
The legendary double World Cup winning Springbok loosehead prop, Os du Randt, recently described Heymans as the hardest man he had ever scrummed against, and often his shoulder would bleed following a scrummaging session against Heymans.
Du Randt told Bloemfontein Courant that Heymans was more than just a teammate and friend.
“Dougie was like my ‘ouboet’. I learned scrumming from him but he was also one of my best mates.
“Ek gaan jou mis, my maat. Ons laataand-chats en kuiers by mekaar, en dat jy altyd daar was vir my en my familie. Dankie dat jy my grootste ondersteuner was en jy my gerate het jare terug. RIP.”
The Free State Rugby Union in turn described Heymans as a player who was very unlucky never to become a Springbok.
“Dougie Heymans was an exceptionally good rugby player and especially in the difficult position of tighthead. He taught many opponents a lesson in the scrums. He was unlucky not to play for the Springboks. He was the anchor of the Free State rugby team in many a match. We honour his memory and convey our deepest sympathy to his family, friends and former players.”
Many will describe Heymans as a friend and one of the most pleasant people to have crossed their paths. He was deeply passionate about rugby, and, in particular, the Shimlas. Many of his former teammates will tell you stories about the great man with a sparkle in their eyes and a smile.
Heymans is survived by his wife, Ilse and his two sons, GJ and Hendré.
Rest in peace, Dougie. – MORGAN PIEK