Former South Africa rugby captain Joost van der Westhuizen has died aged 45 after a seven year battle with motor neurone disease.
He was an integral member of South Africa’s 1995 World Cup winning team, and was widely regarded as one of the greatest ever half–backs.
He was admitted to a Johannesburg hospital over the weekend and was briefly said to be improving, but lost his battle with illness last night.
The J9 Foundation, started by the rugby legend to help others also suffering from Motor Neuron Disease, released a statement on its website saying he passed away surrounded by his loved ones.
“Joost was best known for his incredible rugby career and in recent years has shown the same bravery and strength in his fight against Motor Neuron Disease. He was diagnosed with a form of MND, known as Amytrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) in early 2011,” the statement said.
RIP Joost van der Westhuizen. Here he is stopping human locomotive Jonah Lomu in 1995 world cup final. Will never forget this moment. pic.twitter.com/lJsBXKTjOA
— Imran Khan (@9ikhan) February 6, 2017
“At the time, Joost was given 20 percent chance of living up to two years, however, he defied all odds and next month marks seven years.
“On Saturday 4th February, Joost was rushed to hospital as a result of his respiratory muscles weakening due to MND.
“Joost fought a hard seven years with a failing body whilst his mind remained unaffected.”
There will be a public memorial service for him on February 10 at Loftus Versveld in Pretoria.
Tributes to his prowess on the field came quickly.
RIP Joost van der Westhuizen. An incredible player and fighter to the end. The first of the new age 9's.
— Brian O'Driscoll (@BrianODriscoll) February 6, 2017
RIP Joost. Thoughts and prayers with his family and friends. pic.twitter.com/VDX1WEz3WT
— Jacques Kallis (@jacqueskallis75) February 6, 2017
RIP Joost van der Westhuizen, taken by the infernal motor neurone disease at 45. Not a thorn, but a dagger in English sides. Brilliant man.
— Hugh Laurie (@hughlaurie) February 6, 2017
Britain’s Telegraph said: “His aggression and bravery was staggering. That was best exemplified in the 1995 World Cup final against New Zealand when he tackled a charging Jonah Lomu, who until that point has been considered unstoppable, 22 metres from the try line. It was a defining moment in probably the most storied of all rugby matches.”