Massive support for Joost

23 November 2011 - 02:13 By ANDILE NDLOVU

More than 1000 people turned up to support former Springbok captain Joost van der Westhuizen's benefit dinner last night.

The emotional fund-raising event - attended by former teammates, opponents, friends and fans - was hosted by the South African Rugby Legends' Association in support of Van der Westhuizen, who was earlier this year diagnosed with the debilitating Motor Neuron Disease.

The condition, which entails progressive degeneration of neurons in the brain and the spinal cord, is incurable.

Rock band Watershed sang for the guests in between tributes by local and international figures before Johnny Clegg closed the five-hour event with a sublime performance.

The legends' association's president, Gavin Varejes, read tributes from World Cup-winning captain Francois Pienaar, former Wallabies captain John Eales - who said no game was safe with Van der Westhuizen on the field - and South African ambassador to Argentina Tony Leon.

There were also video tributes from stars such as Victor Matfield, Os du Randt, Naka Drotske, Bobby Skinstad, Breyton Paulse, John Smit and former Bafana Bafana player Mark Williams.

Among the stars present to support the benefit dinner were Butch James, former Bok player and coach Rudolph Straeuli, Corne Krige, Chester Williams, Joel Stransky and Australian legend George Gregan.

A jovial Van der Westhuizen finally got on to the stage after dinner to thank his many doctors, friends and supporters. He said: "When I was diagnosed, it was a roller coaster of emotions and I had to choose to either sit at home and deteriorate or get on with life."

He said his two children with Amor Vittone kept him strong, saying he always sought to be ''an example" to them. "I live for them every single day," he added.

Memorabilia - including framed Van der Westhuizen and Jonah Lomu's jerseys, a picture of the 2011 Currie Cup-winning Golden Lions team signed by captain Josh Strauss, a jersey Van der Westhizen wore on his debut for Northern Transvaal and his Springbok debut jersey - were all auctioned off, with the latter going for R60000.

A jersey signed by the three Boks who've played over 100 tests - Percy Montgomery, Matfield and Smit - went for R17000.