’95 Boks pay tribute to fallen teammates

Members of the 1995 World Cup-winning Springboks paid tribute to late teammates Chester Williams, Ruben Kruger, Joost van der Westhuizen and James Small.

Former Springbok captain Francois Pienaar together with team manager Morne du Plessis as well as Joel Stransky and Os du Randt spoke with historian Dr Dean Allen as part of a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the final – which took place on 24 June.

The famous ‘Class of 1995’ – which won South Africa’s first World Cup title on home soil – has to date sadly lost five members including coach Kitch Christie, flank Ruben Kruger, scrumhalf Joost van der Westhuizen and wings James Small and Chester Williams.

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Remebering Williams’ impact on the team, Pienaar recalled that the wing was only able to take part in the tournament after Pieter Hendricks was suspended following his involvement in a brawl in the pool stage match against Canada at the Boet Erasmus stadium.

‘Chester was the face of the campaign promoting the World Cup,’ Pienaar said. ‘The caption was The waiting is over and a month before the World Cup, Chester injured himself so he could not play. We had the game against Canada which was the biggest disappointment of the World Cup for me as captain. We were always going to be disciplined, we were 20-0 up and they were physical and a scuffle broke out which turned into a big fight.

‘The rules of the game then stated that the third player into a fight is immediately suspended. I probably had my worst week as captain the following week. I sulked and moped, I was angry. But it allowed Chester to come back into the side and Naka [Drotske] to join us.

‘The coaches and Morne sat me down and asked if we were going to put the show back onto the road. I asked Chester to share with us what was happening in South Africa. You must bear in mind, we were in the hotel, on the training pitch and didn’t really know what was happening in South Africa.

‘Chester shared with us the difference in South Africa, how the people are supporting this team, how more and more people are shouting for the Springboks when they didn’t in the past and he went on to score four tries against [Western] Samoa. What an incredible achievement. We really miss him. We miss James, Joost, Ruben and Jonah Lomu.’

Former Springbok team manager and captain Morne du Plessis added that he was impressed by the way that Williams face adversity with sheer hard work and determination.

‘Chester was taken too early like all the other guys who have gone. He – ‘The Black Pearl’ – as he was known was incredible. He had to endure some of the injustices – if I can put it like that – but his way of overcoming that was hard work and dedication, showing the world that he is the best. He was an incredible hard worker.’

Du Plessis also paid tribute to coach Christie, who sadly passed away in 1998 after losing his battle against cancer.

‘Ed Griffiths wrote a book on Kitch and its title was The Triumph of the Decent Man and if ever I can think of an accurate accolade for Kitch, it would be a decent man,’ Du Plessis said. ‘A rugby thinker, a strategist, he had the most incredible attention to detail, for hours watching tapes and analysing. It was the start of professional rugby, there wasn’t really money involved, but Kitch’s approach was professional.

‘He was an incredible motivator and a hard task master. He inspired loyalty in his players. That was one of his greatest attributes. In return, he was fiercely loyal to his players. He never wanted to let any of his players down and he never did.’

Former Bok flyhalf Joel Stransky spoke about Kruger and noted his tenacity and toughness on the field.

‘Ruben was known as the “Silent Assassin”. He didn’t say much, he was a quiet guy,’ Stransky said. ‘But he was one of those players that you didn’t want to play against. When we were playing provincial rugby and playing against his team, it was one of those where you thought that this guy was going to cause carnage.

‘He has a low centre of gravity, steals balls, is a strong carrier and has a mean streak, he gets the elbows in and is robust. He had some wonderful characteristics. We used to laugh at him as he used to come to my room and – the coaches didn’t know this – have the odd cigarette, smoke out the window in my room for some reason. A really wonderful guy. He let his actions speak louder than his words.’

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Pienaar also paid tribute to Van der Westuizen and Small, noting the former’s genius as a player and the latter’s outright passion for the game.

‘Joost’s service to Joel was so crisp,’ Pienaar said. ‘He was a winner. He did stuff on the field that was just insane and was just a genius. You just allowed him to do the things that he wanted to do. We really miss him.

‘When you talk about James Small, it is about 100% passion,’ Pienaar added. ‘He had the passion for rugby and on the field he would do whatever he can. He would play as hard as he could. When we went back to the hotel [after the final] we didn’t have anything planned but James grabbed a bottle of champagne and dived into the fountain of the hotel we were staying at, popped the cork and started drinking out of the bottle. That was James Small.’

JAMES SMALL: A hero remembered

Pienaar added that the 1995 Springboks planned to hold a Zoom meeting on the 24 June this week during which they would raise a glass to those teammates that had passed on.

Photo: Gallo Images / Sunday Times

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Dylan Jack