THE South African rugby community was in mourning on Monday following the passing of Joost van der Westhuizen, one of South Africa’s greatest-ever Springbok legends.Van der Westhuizen died after a long and courageous struggle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a form of motor neuron disease (MND), for the past six years. He was 45 and leaves behind two children, Jordan (13) and Kylie (10), as well as his father Gustav, mother Mariana, and brothers Pieter and Gustav.“They should be two of the proudest kids in South Africa,” said James Small, who was Van der Westhuizen’s 1995 Rugby World Cup-winning team-mate, playing on the right wing in the 1995 World Cup final win over New Zealand. “The biggest thing is how proud his children can be of who their father was,” he said. “That has to be the everlasting message here … I think his kids can be two of the proudest kids in this country and around the world to have Joost as their dad,” Small said.Mark Alexander, president of SA Rugby, said Van der Westhuizen will be remembered as one of the greatest Springboks — not only of his generation, but of all time.“As a player, he lifted the Rugby World Cup, Tri-Nations and Currie Cup while establishing himself as one of the best scrumhalves world rugby has ever seen.” A tall scrumhalf with an eye for a gap and an amazing ability to rip opposition defences apart, Van der Westhuizen was a nominee for the prestigious SA Rugby Player of the Year Award six times during his career, in 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998 and 1999, while he was also a Young Player of the Year nominee in 1992.“He could do things no one else could and it was his unpredictability as a scrumhalf that dazzled opponents and gave his supporters so much reason to cheer,” said Alexander.“Joost epitomised what it meant to represent South Africa on the rugby field and always showed a remarkable fighting spirit throughout his career, but also in recent years during his illness.”Alexander said Van der Westhuizen also became an inspiration and hero to many fellow sufferers of “this terrible disease” as well as to those unaffected. “We all marvelled at his bravery, his fortitude and his uncomplaining acceptance of this terrible burden,” Alexander said.Former Springbok team-mate Mark Andrews said Van der Westhuizen was a warrior and someone who never gave up. Andrews said his team-mate fought through what must have been one of the most challenging and difficult illnesses, adding that he will always remember that about him.“After being admitted to hospital on Friday and doctors told him he won’t make it, Joost fought for three days straight. That says a lot about his character. He is a fighter,” Andrews said.“Joost never allowed anyone to dominate him, whether it was the All Blacks or Jonah Lomu, he never backed down from anyone or anything,” Andrews said.In Durban, the Sharks joined the rest of the rugby fraternity and the nation in mourning the loss of Van der Westhuizen.Francois Pienaar, Van der Westhuizen’s captain in the team that won the 1995 World Cup, said it was a wonderful privilege to be able to play alongside him and be his captain. Former Springbok hooker and coach of the Cheetahs, Naka Drotské, said Van der Westhuizen’s fighting spirit should inspire all South Africans.“There is no other word than ‘legend’ to describe Joost … I think he was the best Springbok ever,” Drotské said.Another 1995 team-member, prop Os du Randt, said Van der Westhuizen always gave 100% in everything he did, including fighting his disease.Chester Williams, wing of the ’95 team, said Van der Westhuizen was an incredible human and friend.“With his J9 Foundation he not only fought for his own life, but also for others suffering from the disease.”Williams said he will also remember Van der Westhuizen for his pranks. “He was one of the naughty ones and pranksters … who could get you in trouble with the coach.”Williams said it was really sad to think that someone once so fit could be flattened by motor neuron disease.Hennie le Roux, inside centre in the 1995 team, remembers how his scrumhalf lived for the big moments and could turn a match around in seconds. From New Zealand, legendary former All Black Dan Carter tweeted: “He was one of the few non All Black players I adored. Such sad news!”Former teacher and later colleague at the University of Pretoria’s High Performance Centre, Lucas Viljoen, said if he had to summarise Van der Westhuizen in one a phrase, it would be “loyal and humble”. Viljoen said Joost came from a humble home, but never became so proud as to forget his roots, even when he had the world at his feet. “He was always willing to help his high school, FH Odendaal, to collect funds for tours for even the most junior of teams, and as a tertiary student he worked as a security guard at a motor dealer in Pretoria central. Even when he was an international star, he took trouble to stay in touch and true to his friends and family.” Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula and President Jacob Zuma joined the worldwide tributes. In a statement, Mbalula was quoted as saying: “The passing of Joost is a sad chapter in South African sporting history.Zuma also paid his respects to the rugby legend, saying: “South Africa has lost a legend and one of the best rugby players the country has ever produced. — News24-Netwerk24-WR.