The Springboks and the All Blacks do battle on Sunday morning (AEDT) for a spot in the Rugby World Cup Final. The Boks, who thrive on emotion, need only look to former player Joost van der Westhuizen for inspiration.
Van der Westhuizen, the most capped halfback in Springbok history with 89 caps, was renowned for his tackling style and try-scoring ability.
In 2011 he was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND) which attacks the nerve cells that control the muscles helping us move, speak, breathe and swallow. Those nerves degenerate and the body wastes away. There is no cure.
The 2015 Rugby World Cup marks 20 years since South Africa’s famous 15-12 victory over the All Blacks in the 1995 World Cup Final on South African soil. The players delivered a gutsy performance honouring President Nelson Mandela’s promise to bring the World Cup to the South African people.
The image of the white Springbok captain, Francois Pienaar, accepting the William Webb Ellis Trophy from Mandela, who proudly wore the Springbok emblem across his heart, was a defining moment of black and white unity in South African history.
On that day Pienaar was not their only leader. They were led also by the diminutive halfback van der Westhuizen, who cut down the fierce Kiwi winger Jonah Lomu and inspired his side. Van der Westhuizen retired in 2003, ending a career in which he played a key role in three Springbok World Cup campaigns, and was inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame in 2007.
Upon retirement and diagnosis of the disease, Van der Westhuizen has become a strong campaigner for finding a cure for MND and has set up his own charity, the J9 Foundation. The organisation works to raise awareness of the disease and provide funds to enable medical staff to detect the disease earlier and to provide support for patients and their families.
Twenty years after that famous World Cup victory the Springboks face the All Blacks yet again in a crucial World Cup clash. The Springboks will be drawing comfort and strength from the example of the brave Van der Westhuizen, their ultimate world cup hero. – Luke Cullen
Top image of Joost van der Westhuizen visiting the All Blacks in training from NZ RugbyVidz’s Youtube video.