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Chester Williams: A trailblazer on the field and as a coach

Legendary former Springbok winger Chester Williams was taken from us too soon on Friday 6 September.

We remember a rugby player who came to symbolize a generation that after years of struggle finally saw the barriers between people in South Africa coming down.

Chester Williams blazed a trail

Williams was the first non-white Springbok picked after the unification of the South African Rugby Unions and as such his symbolic importance belies how good he was as a player.

A gifted finisher his four tries against Samoa in the 1995 World Cup stood as a South African record until 2005 when Tonderai Chavanga scored six against Uruguay. Williams was at the time only the second Springbok to score an international hat-trick. The “Black Pearl” as he was affectionately known only had a place in the 1995 RWC squad because of the suspension of Pieter Hendricks. Hendricks having been banned for his part on the infamous Pool game brawl against Canada was replaced by Williams. Injury had prevented Williams from starting the tournament but he proved an important part of the triumph playing all three of the Boks knockout matches.

Shortly after the 1995 World Cup Williams played a big part in a succesful tour to the north scoring twice in the Springboks 24-14 win over England at Twickenham.

His career was hampered by persistent knee injuries but he would make 27 Test appearances for the Springboks scoring 14 tries. On his debut against Argentina in Beunos Aires he scored to help the Springboks to a resounding 52-23 win. He won the 1998 Tri-Nations under Gary Teichmann but by that time his career was beginning to wane.

Once his playing career ended Williams quickly became involved in coaching, taking charge of the South African Sevens team in 2001 and overseeing an upturn in fortunes in the format. Under Williams the Blitzbokke claimed Bronze at the 2002 Commonwealth games and ended as runner-up in the World Sevens Series in 2003.

His name had been mentioned on two seperate occassions as a possible Springbok coach. In 2003 after the departure of Rudolf Straeuli in the wake of the ‘Camp Staaldraad’ saga, he was mooted but it was believed that his lack of XVs coaching experience hampered his chances.

Williams was appointed coach of the now-defunct Super Rugby franchise the Cats in 2005 but his tenure was short and difficult.

He would coach in developing rugby nations Uganda and Tunisia and also accepted a post with Romanian Rugby club Timișoara just before they established their partnership with Saracens.

6a044b70 chester williams 2048x1367 - Chester Williams: A trailblazer on the field and as a coach
26 NOV 1994: CHESTER WILLIAMS OF SOUTH AFRICA SCORES THE WINNING TRY DESPITE THE TACKLE FROM RUPERT MOON OF WALES DURING THE WALES V SOUTH AFRICA RUGBY INTERNATIONAL AT CARDIFF ARMS PARK, WALES. Mandatory Credit: David Rogers/ALLSPORT

Williams was, at the time of his death from a suspected heart attack, still coaching with UCT’s Varsity Cup team. In 2017 he led Ikeys to the Varsity Cup trophy.

He made waves with his biography, in which he accused former teammate James Small of racially abusing him. The incident would be played down by Williams later, who said such things were said in the heat of Currie Cup competition. However, his book lifted the lid on what it was actually like to be the trailblazing winger trying to make his way into an environment that was not ready to accept him.

By the end of his career he was a beloved figure in South African rugby.

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