'He was a big legend on and off the field' - final farewells for James Small

James Small. (Gallo Images/Wessel Oosthuizen)
James Small. (Gallo Images/Wessel Oosthuizen)

While it was his passion and drive on the rugby field that turned former Springbok James Small into a legend, it was his off-the-field antics that immortalised him in the hearts of those who knew him well, mourners at his funeral heard on Thursday.

Family, friends and teammates said their final farewells to the 1995 Rugby World Cup winner at the Wanderers Club in northern Johannesburg.

A number of his former teammates, who lifted the William Webb Ellis trophy with Small in 1995, attended the ceremony, sharing their memories of the winger who infamously stopped the gigantic New Zealand juggernaut Jonah Lomu from crossing the chalk in the final. 

Springbok teammate Rudolf Straeuli described Small as a perfect gentleman who needed to be celebrated as he cared greatly about his country and its citizens.

Straeuli added Small had passion both on and off the field. 

Former Bok flyhalf Butch James, himself no stranger to clashes on the field, said Small was one of his rugby heroes and wanted to emulate him while growing up. 

James and Small eventually became friends, and it was then that he discovered what an "unbelievable human being" the controversial former speedster was. 

"He was a bigger legend off the field than on the field," James said. 

Small's sister, Kelly Small, said it was a true privilege to have grown up with him. 

She also offered a unique insight into who Small, a man dubbed a bad boy due to his many off-field scuffles, was to his family and friends. 

Kelly said while most people believed Small's purpose in life was to play rugby, those who were close to him knew this was not true. 

"Those who knew James knew his true purpose was to be a friend and make friends," she added.

Former rugby commentator Darren Scott described Small as a kind, passionate and generous man off the field who wore his heart on his sleeve. 

Former Springbok captain Gary Teichmann, who played with Small at the Sharks, said it was clear from the number of tributes that Small had influenced many lives in different ways. 

He labelled Small as a great teammate and rugby player who had an enormous amount to give to the rugby fraternity. 

"It's such a pity that we could not find him a place after his retirement," Teichmann said. 

The popular wing died last Wednesday at the age of 50 after suffering a heart attack, Sport24 reported.

An autopsy found that Small had died of "ischaemic heart disease".

The former rugby player had a troubled past, one marked with drug use and physical abuse, both of which he admitted to publicly.

His death has also been shrouded in controversy, with claims that he had died after visiting a notorious Johannesburg sex club.

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