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Craig Lewis

Joost was ‘rare and wonderful’


Francois Pienaar speaks at the memorial Francois Pienaar speaks at the memorial

Joost van der Westhuizen has been laid to rest following a touching memorial service at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Friday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

Following a private ceremony for the family and loved ones in the morning, Van der Westhuizen’s casket was then escorted to Loftus Versfeld for a public memorial, where it was carried to the stage by members of the 1995 World Cup-winning team, led by former captain Francois Pienaar.

As a close friend of Van der Westhuizen, Pienaar offered an unforgettable tribute to the legendary former Springbok, who he described as the ultimate competitor.

Joost was 'n Bul,’ he stated at the outset to widespread applause. ‘From a Bull he became a Bok …. On the field he played like a rock star, off the field he partied like a rock star, because he was, after all, a rock star. He was funny, and also bloody naughty, but he was always smiling,' Pienaar fondly recalled.

Pienaar then returned to a reference he had made at the funeral of World Cup-winning coach Kitch Christie as he paid further tribute to Van der Westhuizen.

‘Today we say goodbye to another member of our class of 1995,' he commented as his voice briefly wavered with emotion. 'They say a flower that blooms in adversity is the most beautiful and rare of all. Joost was strikingly handsome. If he was a flower, he would be a king Protea, he was rare and wonderful.

‘Thanks a lot Joost, we will see each other again,’ he said in closing as tears flowed among family, friends and fans.

WATCH: Full Joost memorial service

The service had been opened with a welcoming speech from ex-Bok Stefan Terblanche, who also led memorial attendees in an improvised rendition of the national anthem, while South African Rugby Legends Association president Gavin Varejes then gave a touching tribute.

He confirmed that Aspen Pharmacare would be opening a Joost van der Westhuizen Motor Neuron Disease ward at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, while also announcing that the Springbok Legends jersey would bear the insignia of Van der Westhuizen’s J9 Foundation going forward.

‘Joost, I know you are shining down on us. As Italians say, it's not goodbye, but arrivederci [until we meet again],’ Varejes commented in conclusion.

Joost’s older brother, Pieter, also shared fond memories of his sibling during a moving tribute, and reiterated that Van der Westhuizen had been an immensely humble man who had taught the family so much about life, particularly through the manner in which he tackled his debilitating disease. Ex-wife Amor Vittone also delivered a touching speech to pay homage to Joost ‘the competitor’, but also to Joost the ‘father’, and man she had come to ‘love’.

‘I want to say thank you Joost for being my first love, for our fairytale, but most of all, for giving me the most precious gifts of my life, our children, Kylie and Jordan ... We love you and we will miss you, and we will remember you in our hearts forever,’ she said with an outpouring of emotion.

With condolences and messages having poured in from around the world since Van der Westhuizen's passing on Monday, World Rugby president Will Beaumont made the journey from overseas to also pay his tribute to a man he labelled as a ‘hero’ and ‘legend’.

During the lead-up to the commencement of the public service, an array of messages and memories had been shared in honour of Joost, with former Bok and Bulls coach Heyneke Meyer joining those in paying his respects.

‘If I can sum up Joost’s life, I always say that rugby doesn’t build character, it reveals character. And character was everything that Joost was about,’ he commented. ‘I was so proud to have coached him, and he was a diamond that shone brighter and brighter throughout his life.’

Among a host of teammates who also spoke so fondly of Van der Westhuizen, and recalled numerous memorable moments shared with the late great player, former Bok captain John Smit said Joost had been one of his childhood heroes.

‘He was the kind of player who ignited a passion for the game. Having been schooled at Pretoria Boys' High, we all really looked up to him and he became our hero. And when I made my Springbok debut, I wasn’t sure whether I was more excited about pulling on the green and gold, or just getting to play alongside Joost,’ he smiled.

Photo: Anne Laing/HM Images

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