Moving ceremony for Joost

2017-02-14 06:01
 Joost van der Westhuizen’s widow Amor becomes emotional during the memorial service at Loftus Versfeld yesterday. PHOTO: Johan Rynners/Gallo Images)

Joost van der Westhuizen’s widow Amor becomes emotional during the memorial service at Loftus Versfeld yesterday. PHOTO: Johan Rynners/Gallo Images)

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Sarel van der Walt

SPRINGBOK rugby legend Joost van der Westhuizen yesterday afternoon laid claim to Loftus Versveld for the final time.

There was sadness on Van der Westhuizen’s home turf where he entertained so many Blue Bull and Springbok supporters, but their farewell was conducted in a sombre and stylish manner.

The 45-year-old Van der Westhuizen died on Monday afternoon after he had been diagnosed in 2011 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), an aggressive form of motor neurone disease (MND).

At the instruction of President Jacob Zuma, the ex-Bok captain was given a provincial funeral ceremony in recognition for his contribution to sport in South Africa.

His plain coffin was carried by team members and officials of the Springbok team which won the 1995 World Cup when they beat the mighty All Blacks.

Francois Pienaar, the captain of the team, and former Bok captain Morné du Plessis, the manager of the ’95 team, led the procession and carried the coffin on to a catafalque which had been earlier erected on the field.

Former fly half Joel Stransky, the man who received Van der Westhuizen’s pass in the closing stages of the match and put the winning drop goal between the posts, was one of the pall-bearers, who all stared straight in front of them.

On the stand officers of the police draped the South African flag over the coffin. Former Springbok Stefan Terblanche, who acted as master of ceremonies, was forced to start singing the national anthem after technical problems were encountered with the music system. According to those present, Terblanche did an excellent job.

At the request of Gavin Varejes, executive chief of the South African Rugby Legends Association, the thousands of people present, dressed in green and gold or the blue of the Bulls, gave a standing ovation for one minute in honour of Van der Westhuizen. The crowd also gave a standing ovation to Van der Westhuizen’s older brother Pieter, who cared for his brother the past few years while the scrumhalf battled the disease. Rugby legends such as Naas Botha, Victor Matfield and Fourie du Preez were among the spectators.

Kevin de Klerk, a former Springbok lock and president of the Lions Rugby Union, and Thelo Wakefield, rugby boss of Western Province, were also present as well as a number of well-known coaches — among them Heyneke Meyer and Eugene van Wyk.

“Joost was a legend but also a brother, a father and a family man,” said Pieter van der Weshuizen.

He cried when the music group Touch of Class later sang Hallelujah. Van der Westhuizen’s wife Amor Vittone, from whom he was separated and who also had been on the stage, comforted him.

Many people could not hold back the tears but there was a big applause when Pienaar started his speech in Afrikaans by saying: “Joost was a Bull, a fearless Bull.”

The singer PJ Powers sang the 1995 World Cup tournament theme song World in Union. Sumari Botha, a cousin of Van der Westhuizen from Australia, sang a song, Mr No. 9.

Sports Minister Fikele Mbalula praised the former Bok and said he had represented SA rugby with “dignity and pride”.

While police officers removed the flag from Van der Westhuizen’s coffin and handed it to his parents Gustav and Mariana, the thunder of an electric storm could be heard behind the eastern pavilion of Loftus.

It sounded like a gun salute. Close to 3 pm, Joost van der Westhuizen disappeared for the final time down the players’ tunnel of Loftus Versveld while bystanders shouted: “Joost, Joost.”

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