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Remembering the fallen Springbok heroes of RWC 1995

The 1995 Rugby World Cup was just 24 years ago but the Springboks have seen a handful of their heroes pass away since their historic triumph.

Including coach Kitch Christie, five members of the 1995 Rugby World Cup winning group have seen their lives tragically cut short.

Christie lost his battle to cancer

After coaching the Springboks to the Rugby World Cup Christie continued coaching with short spells at the Bulls and Falcons. Sadly Christie succumbed to cancer in 1998.

Christie remained unbeaten during his tenure as Springbok coach between 1994 and 1996. He led the team to a then-record 14 consecutive Test victories. In 2011, he was inducted posthumously into the IRB Hall of Fame.

He coached Transvaal to back to back Currie Cup titles in 1993 and 1994 before taking the reigns of the Springboks. His time in charge beginning with a brace of victories in Argentina.

Christie was the first Springbok coach to embrace the professional era and begin implementing best practice in sports management. He was comfortable delegating tasks and believed in his staff and in some ways was ahead of his time.

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OCT 1994: KITCH CHRISTIE, THE SOUTH AFRICA RUGBY UNION TEAM COACH, WATCHES HIS TEAM TRAIN BEFORE THEIR MATCH AGAINST ARGENTINA IN JOHANNESBURG. Mandatory Credit: David Rogers/ALLSPORT

Cancer claims Kruger as well

Ruben Kruger scored a vital try in the Springboks rain-sodden semi-final win over France at Kings Park and to many seemed as though he had scored in the final, but the referee was unsighted. TV replays at the time showed no conclusive grounding of the ball but TMO referrals were still years away anyway. Kruger was excellent in the final both as a ball carrier and on defence.

He played in two World Cups, but only played twice in the 1999 World Cup.

In 2010, Kruger lost a ten-year battle with brain cancer, he was two months short of his 40th birthday.

Joost fades away

After a Hall of Fame career Joost van der Westhuizen transitioned into a career in broadcasting with Supersport until an earth-shattering diagnosis in 2011.

That year the former Springbok skipper discovered he had motor neurone disease.

The debilitating condition confined van der Westhuizen to a wheelchair by 2013 and in 2017 he passed away.

Van der Westhuizen was considered the best scrumhalf in the world during his peak and he enjoyed domestic success as a cult hero for the Bulls faithful. 

In November 2003, van der Westhuizen retired from international rugby, at the time he was the Springbok’s record test cap holder with 89, and record test try scorer with 38.

No rules sudden passing

Earlier this year James Small’s sudden death made headlines and the cause of death was a source of a great deal of media speculation until it was revealed to have been ‘ischaemic heart disease’.

Small was the original Springbok badboy and he endured a number of controversies both during his playing days and afterwards. 

After his death, those closest to him revealed him to be a generous man who always enquired after the welfare of his friends.

As a player his robust defence helped keep Jonah Lomu from running roughshod. A great finisher, he probably didn’t make the most of his career but might not have wanted it any other way.

Chester departs just before the Springboks bif for the cup

Just months after the death of Small another Springbok hero from 1995 died suddenly this month. Chester Williams was employed as the coach of the UWC Varsity Cup team but suffered a heart attack on 6 September.

Williams scored a then-record four tries in the quarterfinal against Samoa and did his bit defensively in tricky conditions in that semi at Kings Park.

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Springboks: In this June 10, 1995, file photo, South Africa’s Chester Williams cuts across the open field during Rugby World Cup action against Western Samoa in Johannesburg. Williams, the only black player on South Africa’s famed 1995 Rugby World Cup winning team, has died Friday, Sept. 6, 2019, in Cape Town of a heart attack, SA Rugby announced. He was 49. (AP Photo/Ross Setford, File)

He achieved success as a Sevens coach and gave back to African rugby coaching Uganda and Tunisia.

The Springboks will wear Williams image on their jerseys alongside portraits of current Boks and fans.

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