Joost…one of the greats.
News broke in South Africa this afternoon that retired Springbok Scrumhalf Joost van der Westhuizen had passed away after a long battle with Motor Neuron Disease shortly before his 46th Birthday.
Joost, born on the 20th of January 1971 in Pretoria made his rugby debut at scrumhalf for the Blue Bulls in the Currie Cup in 1993 at the age of 22. The very same year he made his Springbok debut under Ian Macintosh. By 1996 Joost had established himself as an integral part of the Blue Bulls set up as they geared up for Super Rugby.
Joost would go on to earn 71 Super Rugby caps and a further 89 for the Springboks in his career which spanned over 10 years until his retirement in 2003. Joost previously topped the South African try scorers list with 38 tries until being surpassed by Bryan Habana.
Joost was a member of South Africa’s World Cup winning team in 1995 and his crisp passing, tactical awareness, speed and game management skills were noticed around the world. South Africa was back and the world was taking notice.
In 2007 He was inducted into the Rugby Hall of Fame alongside legends of the game such as Danie Craven, John Eales and Gareth Edwards. Cementing his place in the history books Joost’s trophy cabinet would boast a World Cup (1995), Tri-Nations (1998), two Currie Cups (1998 & 2002) as well as his appearance in three World Cups and his try record for the Springboks.
In 2011 the Rugby World got news of Joost’s Illness MND or Motor Neuron Disease. The disease essentially causes the death of the neurons which control the muscles. Joost still didn’t let this stop him and instead got working on a foundation to for MND sufferers known as the J9 foundation. Slowly the stature of a great Icon of the game began to deteriorate but still he was determined to keep fighting and his appearance at the Springbok game against New Zealand brought the crowd to tears as he was strapped up to assist him in standing, once again illustrating his true strength to the world.
On the 6th of February, at the age of 45 news broke of Joost passing away in a Fourways hospital once again shocked the Rugby world as he joins a comrade in Jonah Lomu among others in the Rugby history books and the hearts of the players and fans. Thoughts go out to his two young children and the rest of his family.