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On 6 February, rugby legend and UP graduate Joost van der Westhuizen passed away having been diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease in 2011. Van der Westhuizen, who previously played for the SA Sevens Rugby World Cup and the Blue Bulls Rugby team, was most notable for his performance in the Springboks Rugby team, during which time he played as a scrum-half in the 1995 Rugby World Cup, which saw South Africa become Rugby World Champions for the first time. During his time with the Springboks, he played 89 tests between 1993 and 2003, scoring a then-Springbok record of 38 tries and captaining the team at the 1999 World Cup.
Former Springbok Captain and current President of TuksRugby Supporter’s Club, Wynand Claassen, was the chairman of the Rugby Club when Van der Westhuizen was the director of rugby at UP, a position he held from 2005 to 2007. Claassen told Perdeby that Van der Westhuizen was committed and wanted to bring a lot of new ideas to TuksRugby. “For instance, he wanted to establish a super squad of 40 players, playing as a semi-professional team, but that would have meant that the Fezelas (Tuks' second 1st team playing with Tuks 1 in the First Division for 25 years) had to forfeit its 1st Division status. This move was not good for the well-being of TuksRugby in the long run as far as depth was concerned,” said Claassen.
He added that due to Van der Westhuizen’s involvement at SuperSport, he could not always devote all his time to Tuks but nevertheless established a strong young coaching staff under his guidance. “He was very good with the players as far as team spirit and dedication was concerned,” added Claassen.
Van der Westhuizen has been honoured in UP’s TuksSport Hall of Fame under the category Sport Alumni and members of Tuks sport clubs.
A public memorial service was held at the Loftus Versveld Stadium on 10 February where Van der Westhuizen received a “hero’s farewell.” Among those in attendance were members of his family, Chairman of World Rugby, Bill Beaumont,and Minister of Sport, Fikile Mbalula. Van der Westhuizen’s casket was carried out on to the field by several 1995 World Cup team members, lead by Francois Pienaar and Morné du Plessis.
Van der Westhuizen was 45 years old.
Photo: Stefan Stander.