Editorial: Joost reconciles rivals

12 February 2017 - 02:00 By Sunday Times
This file photo taken on November 8, 2003 at Telstra Dome Stadium in Melbourne shows South African scrum-half Joost van der Westhuizen (L) leaving the field at the end of the Rugby World Cup quarter-final match between New Zealand and South Africa.
This file photo taken on November 8, 2003 at Telstra Dome Stadium in Melbourne shows South African scrum-half Joost van der Westhuizen (L) leaving the field at the end of the Rugby World Cup quarter-final match between New Zealand and South Africa.
Image: WILLIAM WEST / AFP

The esteem in which Van der Westhuizen was held was reflected by tributes from around the world and from some of the game's luminaries on Friday at the scrumhalf's home ground in Pretoria. Bill Beaumont, who led the British and Irish Lions to South Africa, called Van der Westhuizen a legend.

"People talk about legends and it's easily given away that players are legends. This man is a legend in the world of rugby and for all he has done through his illness," said Beaumont, the chairman of World Rugby, in his Loftus tribute.

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It was Van der Westhuizen's stoicism in the face of motor neuron disease that made his demise so harrowing.

Since the diagnosis of MND in 2011, we have been watching a rugby legend die. In that death watch, rugby fans - especially those in our passionately partisan rugby fraternity - put aside their disparate opinions of the man.

The grief for Van der Westhuizen united rugby lovers from poles as far apart as Newlands and Loftus. Putting aside such local differences is usually achieved only by the national team, the Springboks, seldom by an individual. It revealed Van der Westhuizen's stature.

The man who stopped Jonah Lomu, gave the pass to Joel Stransky for the kick that won the 1995 Rugby World Cup, and had footwork as nimble as a dancer, also had feet of clay. But the sex scandal that cost him his TV job and plunged him into brief notoriety was forgotten this week.

Van der Westhuizen redeemed his reputation over the past six years in the biggest game of his life.

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