Joost's rival: He was the best on the planet

Justin Marshall (Gallo Images)
Justin Marshall (Gallo Images)

Sydney - Australia and New Zealand on Tuesday saluted "extraordinary" South African rugby legend Joost van der Westhuizen, hailing his skill and leadership as an inspiration.

The former scrumhalf, a Springbok captain who won the 1995 World Cup, died on Monday aged 45 after a five-year battle with motor neuron disease which left him frail and in a wheelchair.

Former New Zealand scrumhalf Justin Marshall said that at his peak, Van der Westhuizen was the best player in the world.

"He just had an ability, on the flip of a coin, to change a game ... a player like that was someone you could never underestimate, was always dangerous," Marshall told New Zealand radio.

"Players like that don't come along very often.

"When people ask me about Joost... I tend to gravitate towards the fact that, on his day when he was at his peak, he was probably one of the best, if not the best, player on the planet."

Marshall said his great on-field rivalry with Van der Westhuizen developed into a close friendship off the pitch and he admired the tenacity with which he battled the disease.

Former wallabies players also paid tribute.

"Rugby world lost another great person and player," former Wallabies back David Campese tweeted.

"Joost ... will be remembered for the great fight he had to fight. RIP my friend."

Fellow Wallaby Tim Horan added: "Loved playing against and with you Joost. The most competitive player I ever played against. You are an inspiration to all. #RIPJoost."

Australian Rugby Union chief Bill Pulver said in a statement he died too early.

"Joost was a truly extraordinary rugby player and having read about his efforts with the J9 Foundation he sounds like an equally extraordinary human being. At 45, his great life has ended too early," he said.

All Black great Dan Carter also paid tribute.

"He was one of the few non All Black players I adored. Such sad news!," he tweeted, while New Zealand Rugby chief Steve Tew said he inspired many around the world.

"Joost had an incredible playing career and over the course of it, established strong friendships with a lot of New Zealand players," Tew said in a statement.

"We know they'll be taking this news hard. He was an inspiration to a lot of people in South Africa and around the world both for his skill and leadership on the field and the courage with which he faced this illness."

Van der Westhuizen, who was at the time of his retirement in 2003 the most capped Springbok, playing 89 Tests, was instrumental in South Africa's victory over New Zealand in the 1995 World Cup final in Johannesburg which made him a national sporting hero.

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