Joost: 100 and counting

2001-11-21 22:10

London - Joost Van der Westhuizen will be writing his own bit of history at Twickenham on Saturday when he becomes the first player ever to wear the Springbok jersey for the 100th time.

The 30-year-old Blue Bulls scrumhalf will achieve this feat at the same venue where he became only the second Springbok ever to play in 50 Tests.

It is a feat few others will ever achieve. But Van der Westhuizen will also remember Twickenham for a less pleasant reason; that is where he tore the cruciate ligaments in his knee for the first time. The injury sidelined him for six months.

The determination with which he returned after that injury sums him up - he is a fighter who is satisfied with nothing but the best.

This was already evident at the Hoërskool FH Odendaal in Pretoria, where he was known as someone who did not know what it meant to give up, someone who reached for the stars.

Van der Westhuizen has always been a true Blue Bull. His got his first taste of provincial rugby when he played in the Craven Week for the then Northern Transvaal schools team.

In 1998, seven years after his debut for the Blue Bulls' senior team, Van der Westhuizen held the Currie Cup aloft at Loftus for the first time after the Bulls beat Western Province. Afterwards he said that experience "almost exceeded the joy of winning the World Cup in 1995".

World Cup hero

Of the 1995 World Cup heroes only Van der Westhuizen and lock Mark Andrews are still part of the national team.

Van der Westhuizen made his Test debut in 1993 in one of two Tests he played against Argentina. On Saturday against England he will be playing in his 78th Test, two of which he played as replacement wing. The rest he played at number 9, earning him the nickname "J9" among his friends.

Van der Westhuizen does not only hold the record for most games in the green and gold jersey; he is also the most prolific try-scorer in Tests for the team. He scored his 35th try for the Springboks in last Saturday's Test against Italy in Genoa.

On Saturday he will also become the first Bok ever to play 10 Tests against England. Should he score a try, he will also be the first Springbok to have scored five tries against the red rose brigade.

Van der Westhuizen can hardly wait to take on the English again, but remembers well how the 1998 Test at Twickenham brought an end to an unbeaten record of 17 Tests for coach Nick Mallett's team. If they had won that day, it would have been a new world record.

In 1999 Van der Westhuizen became the 48th Springbok captain, taking over from Gary Teichmann.

Van der Westhuizen captained his first Test in the Tri-Nations against New Zealand. The Boks took a beating, and his captaincy lasted only seven Tests before Andre Vos replaced him.

Vos captained the Boks until early this season when he was replaced by Bob Skinstad.

Skinstad, Van der Westhuizen, Vos and Corne Krige, all part of the 22-man squad to take on the English on Saturday, have had a chance to captain the Boks.

Off the field

Van der Westhuizen is also a newsmaker off the rugby field.

The past two years he also made the headlines, once when he locked horns with the Blue Bulls management, and earlier this year when he reneged his contract with Newport, a Welsh club.

Former Blue Bulls coach John Williams taught him something he will never forget, namely always to remember his roots, Van der Westhuizen said.

And amid all the rugby tours and overseas holidays with his wife Marlene, Joost never forgot that he grew up on the "wrong side" of town, according to the Pretoria snobs.

So when he takes to the field for his 100th game for the Boks on Saturday, the people of East-Lynne in Pretoria could rightly cheer for "their Joost".