Former Springbok coaches Nick Mallett and Heyneke Meyer paid tribute to Joost van der Westhuizen who died on Monday following a six-year battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a form of motor neurone disease (MND)

The coaches were speaking ahead of a public memorial for Van der Westhuizen at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Friday, starting at noon. A private church service is scheduled nearby, for close family and friends.

Mallett described Van der Westhuizen as a courageous player and the best scrumhalf in the world.

“I was very privileged to coach Joost from 1997 to 2000. He’d already been an established Springbok having already won the World Cup in 1995,” said Mallett.

“He was a key member of the team when I selected it in 1997. He was the most extraordinary athlete, a very unusual player for a number nine. He was very tall, he was a left-footed kicker. But his courage in defence, in particular, the speed at which he broke around the side from rucks and mauls. He was exceptionally difficult to tackle and he had a great eye for a gap.

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“Above all else, he was just the most competitive human being I’ve ever coached. He was a guy who just wanted to win every game he played. He would do his utmost to give 100 percent every time he played whether it was for the Blue Bulls or the Springboks.

“He was an extraordinary rugby player. And in the same way he played rugby, he fought his disease … He never gave up. He never believed that disease was going to get the better of him, even in the terrible, darkest days he just did not show any signs of weakness. South Africa was very privileged to have a person of his calibre and was clearly the best player in the world in his position while he was playing.”

Courageous fight

Van der Westhuizen was 45 and leaves behind two children, Jordan (13) and Kylie (10), as well as his father Gustav, mother Mariana, and brothers Pieter and Gustav.

Meyer made special mention of Van der Westhuizen’s courageous fight against his debilitating illness.

“Joost was a warrior, a fighter and a leader. Rugby doesn’t build character, it reveals character,” said Meyer.

“Joost was the first guy you would pick in a fight where no one gave you a chance. The bigger the pressure, the more he shone.

“I’m very proud of him, even later in life. His light just became stronger. At the end of his life, he made a huge difference in people’s lives. When he was sick, he still cared about other people and made a huge difference with the J9 foundation. For that I salute him, I respect him and I was very proud to call him my captain and my friend. He will really be missed.”

Watch the live memorial service below:

Author: ANA Newswire