Veteran Springbok Os du Randt says he was left numb at the news of his former teammate James Small’s passing on Wednesday.
Small and Du Randt were in the 1995 World Cup-winning squad and the latter says he is shattered by his friend’s death at such a young age.
‘I had just scrambled back home from work when Francois Pienaar shared the news of James’ passing. There was no shock or sadness, I just felt numb. You don’t expect people of our age to die and to hear one of your own is no more makes it that much harder to take,’ Du Randt admitted.
The former prop says it makes it easier knowing Small lived life to the fullest in his 50 years and never tried to be what the world wanted him to be.
‘We all know James always pushed the edge with everything he did. But the one thing we can say with conviction about James Small is that he was always the same. He lived 100%, with no half measures. He was true to himself and didn’t try to be someone he is not. In that regard, we should take our hats off to him. It is not always easy to be yourself in this world, but James was a prime example of how it should and can be done.
‘He never allowed people or opinions to change who he was, how he operated and how he saw fit to do things and run his life. He was made out as a bad boy, but I was never sold. Yes, he wore earrings and had tattoos and didn’t conform to the perception of what a rugby player and role model should be. That wasn’t a bad boy, it was just James being James.’
Du Randt says he’ll remember Small for the courage and passion he had for playing the game, which he believes was best illustrated in his performance against Jonah Lomu in the 1995 final.
‘He never shook off that ultra-competitive streak. The last time I saw him was on 20 March when we played a round of golf in Johannesburg. And he played as if his life depended on it, the same way he tackled Lomu in 1995. We had a beer after golf and I teased him about always wanting to win.’
Du Randt also revealed his two most cherished memories of Small.
‘There are two things I’ll remember James by. Prior to the 1995 World Cup, he trained without a shirt and soon Andre [Joubert] and Joost [van der Westhuizen] started doing the same. A picture of the three of them was taken and it later became a poster in magazines and newspapers. I can tell you now, the idea to flex their muscles like that in front of the cameras was all James,’ he laughs. ‘It’s an iconic image, one I’ll always look at with happiness.’
‘The other funny moment was when we clashed. Outside of the Springboks, I didn’t play with him. I remember in 1997, we played against Western Province. James, always ready for a scuffle, had a bit of a go at me and I reacted. And I clearly remember the shock on his face when I did because he knew I didn’t normally react to stuff like that.
‘Afterwards he jokingly told me he didn’t know why I had responded, it wasn’t as if I could’ve caught him anyway. That was James in a nutshell, always ready for a fight on the field and always ready for a joke off it.’
Photo: Tertius Pickard/Gallo Images/Getty Images