HE WAS no saint, but Joost van der Westhuizen was a giant in the lore of Springbok and world rugby.

At 1.85m tall, he was an unusual height for a scrumhalf, but was “peerless” in his ability, according to SA Rugby president Mark Alexander.

President Jacob Zuma and Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula hailed Van Der Westhuizen as a “legend” in their messages of condolence to his family.

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On the field, Van Der Westhuizen was electric in his play, often breaking the line of defence, creating scoring opportunities from the smallest of gaps.

Nominated as SA Rugby Player of the Year no fewer than six times, Van Der Westhuizen also held the record for the most capped Springbok for a long time, with his 89 Test appearances and 111 appearances in the Green and Gold, over his decade-long career.

A veteran of three world cups, his try-scoring record of 38 international Test tries stood for 13 years before it was broken by Bryan Habana in 2011.

A World Cup winner, he will be remembered for his try-saving tackle on All Blacks legend Jonah Lomu, after the burly winger successfully crashed through a number of Springbok defenders.

While his personal life drew media attention for all the wrong reasons in later years, the country rallied around the scrumhalf after he was diagnosed with motor neuron disease in 2011. Given between two and five years to live, Van Der Westhuizen again defied the odds and began vigorously campaigning for awareness of the disease, raising funds for research through his J9 Foundation.

Confined to a wheelchair, Van Der Westhuizen took part in the ice bucket challenge, a viral campaign which sought to raise awareness worldwide for ALS – another name for motor neuron disease.

Van Der Westhuizen is known to have said: “Life is not measured by the amount of years lived, but by the amount of memories created.”

His life is testimony to this and to the fact that no matter what we do in life we can all be the architects of our own redemption.

Rest in peace Joost. You were a legend of the game on the field and a champion off it.

-Cape Times

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