South Africa's Joost van der Westhuizen possessed all of the traits that made up a world class scrum-half
Major team: Blue Bulls
Country: South Africa
Test span: 1993-2003
Test caps: 89 (78 starts)
Test points: 190 (38T)
When Gareth Edwards was knighted in June, rugby pundits tried to come up with the name of a scrum-half who could have lived with the mighty Welshman and Joost van der Westhuizen’s was the only name in the frame.
The South African had the lot. He was fast and fearless, could break the line, had a strong pass and tackled himself into the ground, never more than when he brought down Jonah Lomu in the 1995 World Cup final.
Like Edwards, van der Westhuizen also had an eye for the line as 38 tries in his 89 Tests prove. By the time he retired after the 2003 World Cup he was South Africa’s most-capped player and record try-scorer and, although those marks have both been eclipsed, his contribution to his country has never been forgotten.
Van der Westhuizen should have had a long and happy retirement ahead of him. He was a World Cup winner, a legend at the Bulls, had a degree in commerce and was one of the most recognisable rugby players on the planet.
A few lurid tales hit the South African press but van der Westhuizen – who had been inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame in 2007 – rode the storm before he was confronted by his biggest opponent in 2011 when, at the age of 40, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – a form of motor neurone disease. He was given between two and five years to live but has fought the battle against the disease with the same appetite he showed for taking the fight to the opposition on the rugby field.
Although wheelchair-bound, van der Westhuizen has thrown his weight behind raising awareness of the disease and in 2013 travelled to Cardiff ahead of South Africa’s November International against Wales. Edwards was there to meet him and although the pair never squared up on the pitch it was fitting the two legends should get together off it.