Joost van der Westhuizen

Joost Heystek van der Westhuizen (20 February 1971 – 6 February 2017) was a South African rugby union player who made 89 appearances in test matches for the national team, scoring 38 tries. He mostly played as a scrum-half and participated in three Rugby World Cups, most notably in the 1995 tournament which was won by South Africa.

Joost van der Westhuizen
Van der Westhuizen in 2014
Birth nameJoost Heystek van der Westhuizen
Date of birth(1971-02-20)20 February 1971
Place of birthPretoria, South Africa
Date of death6 February 2017(2017-02-06) (aged 45)
Place of deathJohannesburg, South Africa
Height1.88 m (6 ft 2 in)
Weight88 kg (13 st 12 lb; 194 lb)
SchoolHoërskool F.H. Odendaal
UniversityUniversity of Pretoria
Occupation(s)Professional Sportsman
Rugby union career
Position(s) Scrum-half
Provincial / State sides
Years Team Apps (Points)
1993–2003 Blue Bulls ()
Correct as of 26 December 2007
Super Rugby
Years Team Apps (Points)
1996–2003 Bulls 71 (61)
Correct as of 15 September 2012
National team(s)
Years Team Apps (Points)
1993–2003 South Africa
Springboks (non test)
Correct as of 15 September 2012

He captained the national side on ten occasions and was part of the team that won South Africa's first Tri-Nations title in 1998. Domestically he played for the provincial side the Blue Bulls from 1993 to 2003, with whom he won two domestic Currie Cup trophies in 1998 and 2002, and from 1996 until his retirement in 2003 played Super 12 rugby for Northern Transvaal (later renamed the Bulls). He was inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame in 2007 and later into the World Rugby Hall of Fame.

In 2011, it was announced that van der Westhuizen had motor neurone disease. He eventually became confined to a wheelchair and experienced speech problems, yet still raised awareness of the disease through his charity, the J9 Foundation.[1]

Early life

Van der Westhuizen was born on 20 February 1971 in Pretoria, South Africa.[2] He was educated at Hoërskool F.H. Odendaal and at the University of Pretoria where he obtained a Bachelor of Commerce degree.[3] He played for the Junior Springboks in 1992.

Rugby career

Van der Westhuizen spent his entire provincial career with South African side the Blue Bulls, from 1993 until 2003, whereupon he retired from playing rugby.[1][4] He played Super 12 for Northern Transvaal (later renamed the Bulls) from the competition's inception in 1996 until his retirement in 2003.[5]

He spent his entire career as a scrum-half, despite standing 6 ft 2 ins, an unusually tall height for a player in this position.[6]

He was known for finding and penetrating the tiniest gaps in opposition defences, and his willingness to move forward and join the attack, which brought him in his defensive duty, he played with savage aggression and a fearlessness that aided his team greatly, often producing heroic and result-defining tackles.[7]

His first international cap came aged 22 against Argentina in Buenos Aires on the 1993 tour.[8] The following year he scored two tries in a memorable performance against Scotland at Murrayfield.[9][10]

South Africa hosted the 1995 Rugby World Cup. This was their first time playing in a World Cup, a consequence of the previous apartheid.[11] In the final the Springboks faced New Zealand, who were favourites to win the tournament. On New Zealand's wing was Jonah Lomu, an emergent talent, capable of making powerful runs from deep. Lomu was effectively marked and Van der Westhuizen made several tackles, including one just outside the 22m line.[12][13] In 1997, he captained South Africa's Sevens team to the final at the 1997 Rugby World Cup Sevens in Hong Kong, where they were beaten by Fiji.[14]

Van der Westhuizen was part of the team that won South Africa's first Tri-Nations series title in 1998.[15] He captained the Bulls to the 1998 Currie Cup.[16] He first captained the South Africa team in 1999.[17] That year South Africa finished third at the World Cup.[18] After the tournament he discovered he had sustained a serious injury to ligaments in his knee in a match a fortnight earlier.[19] Injuries sustained while on international duty led to him missing the greater parts of three consecutive Super 12 seasons in 1998, 1999 and 2000.[20]

In November 2001, he became the first person to play one hundred matches for the Springboks.[17] Welsh club side Newport RFC had tried to sign him in 2001, but there was pressure on him to play his domestic rugby in South Africa, to be eligible for selection for the national side.[21] His selection for the 2003 World Cup made him the first person to represent South Africa at three finals.[22] The team met the All Blacks in the quarter-finals and were beaten.[23]

In November 2003, van der Westhuizen retired from international rugby, at which point he was South Africa's record test cap holder with 89, and record test try scorer with 38.[24] He had made 111 appearances for South Africa in total, captained them in ten tests,[5] and scored 190 points for his country.[25]

Awards and honours

He was inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame in 2007,[26] and in 2015 became a member of the World Rugby Hall of Fame when the International Hall was merged with it.[27]

Private life and controversy

In 2001, he and his wife of six years, Marlene,[28] divorced, shortly before he married Amor Vittone.[29] He had two children with Vittone.[30]

In February 2009, Rapport newspaper and Heat magazine reported that they had video evidence of him engaging in sex play with a mystery blonde and snorting a white substance.[31] Charmaine Weavers claimed to have had an affair with him in an interview with YOU magazine. His marriage to Vittone fell apart.[1] At the end of March he lost his job as a television presenter with the South African broadcaster SuperSport.[32]

On 28 June 2009, he was admitted to hospital with a suspected heart attack,[33] although he was discharged soon afterward when tests found no evidence of heart problems. A panic attack was suspected.[34] On 1 November, coinciding with the release of his autobiography Spieëlbeeld ("Man in the mirror"), van der Westhuizen confessed to being in the controversial sex video and apologised for lying.[35]

In a telephone interview in August 2013 with BBC Sports correspondent James Peacock, he spoke about facing up to the controversy. "What I did went against all my principles - my life was controlled by my mind and I had to make my mistakes to realise what life is all about, I led my life at a hundred miles an hour. I've learned that there are too many things that we take for granted in life and it's only when you lose them that you realise what it is all about. But I know that God is alive in my life and with experience you do learn. I can now talk openly about the mistakes I made because I know my faith won't give up and it won't diminish. It's only when you go through what I am going through that you understand that life is generous."[36]

Illness and death

In May 2011, van der Westhuizen's publicist confirmed that he had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease.[37] Some weakness had first been noticed in his right arm near the end of 2008, but he had put this down to the aftereffects of an old rugby injury.[38] A few months later, Dr Kelbrick, his personal doctor and a family friend, noticed his right arm weakness and arranged for tests.[37] At that time, Van der Westhuizen was given between two and five years to live.[38]

An August 2013 BBC Sport report illustrated the progress of his disease — by then, Van der Westhuizen was confined to a wheelchair, and his speech had grown increasingly slurred. He told reporter James Peacock,[38]

I realise every day could be my last. It's been a rollercoaster from day one and I know I'm on a deathbed from now on. I've had my highs and I have had my lows, but no more. I'm a firm believer that there's a bigger purpose in my life and I am very positive, very happy.

In January 2014, he returned to the United States to participate in clinical studies with ALS researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He planned to visit the Eleanor and Lou Gehrig Center in New York City, which provides support to MND patients, as Van der Westhuizen hoped to start a similar organisation in South Africa.[39] He set up a charitable organisation, the J9 Foundation, to raise awareness, funds and to support research.[40] He regularly spent time with his children, Jordan and Kylie.[38]

A feature length documentary- Glory Game, directed by Odette Schwegler, followed him for a period while he was dealing with having Motor Neurone Disease. It was broadcast in 2015 on DStv Box Office.[41]

On 4 February 2017 he was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit at the Fourways Life Hospital in Johannesburg where he was placed on a ventilator. He died at his home in Johannesburg surrounded by his family[42] on Monday, 6 February 2017, at the age of 45.[43][44] A public memorial service was scheduled for 10 February at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria.[45]


  1. Malin, Ian (6 February 2017). "Joost van der Westhuizen obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 February 2017.
  2. "Joost van der Westhuizen". News24. 3 October 2003. Retrieved 6 February 2017.
  3. "Joost Heystek Van der Westhuizen". Retrieved 7 February 2017.
  4. "Joost Heystek van der Westhuizen". ESPNScrum. Retrieved 8 February 2017.
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  7. Richardson, Ed (19 August 2011). "Greatest Rugby World Cup XV: scrum-half profiles - Joost van der Westhuizen". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 6 February 2017.
  8. "Sporting Digest: Rugby Union". The Independent. 6 November 1993. Retrieved 6 February 2017.
  9. Law, Graham (21 November 2015). "From the archive: Scotland stuck in a time warp". The Scotsman. Retrieved 7 February 2017.
  10. Reid, Alasdair (17 November 2013). "Joost van der Westhuizen epitomises true Springbok spirit". The Herald. Retrieved 7 February 2017.
  11. "1995: Party time for SA". BBC News. 24 June 1995.
  12. "Joost van der Westhuizen and Jonah Lomu - friendship borne from rugby's ultimate rivalry". 7 February 2017. Retrieved 7 February 2017.
  13. "Great Sporting Moments". The Independent. 24 June 1995. Retrieved 6 February 2017.
  14. "Fiji storm back to lift cup". The Irish Times. 24 March 1997. Retrieved 6 February 2017.
  15. Short, Paul (22 August 1998). "Rugby union: South Africa's crown". The Independent. Retrieved 6 February 2017.
  16. "Joost captains Bulls". News24. 6 September 2000. Retrieved 6 February 2017.
  17. "Joost: 100 and counting". News24. 21 November 2001. Retrieved 6 February 2017.
  18. Berlin, Peter (1 November 1999). "Wallabies Win Tense Semifinal in Extra Time: Springboks' Cup Hold Broken by Australia". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 February 2017.
  19. "Joost out of rugby for six months". Cape Argus. 9 November 1999. Retrieved 7 February 2017.
  20. "Sport: Rugby Union. Same old problem for Joost". BBC News. 10 November 1999. Retrieved 7 February 2017.
  21. Hewatt, Chris (4 September 2001). "Newport outraged by Springbok snub". Retrieved 6 February 2017.
  22. "Boks drop race row pair". BBC News. 30 August 2003. Retrieved 7 February 2017.
  23. "New Zealand overpower Boks". BBC News. 9 November 2003.
  24. "Joost tips SA recovery". BBC News. 8 November 2003. Retrieved 6 February 2017.
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  29. de Bruin, Philip; van Wyk, Sanri (3 November 2009). "Another Joost lover confesses". News24. Retrieved 6 February 2017.
  30. "TimesLIVE". Retrieved 11 January 2018.
  31. "Sex, lies and the video". News24. 24 February 2009. Retrieved 6 February 2017.
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  35. Fitzpatrick, Marida (2 November 2009). "Joost confesses, but says 'it was the only time'". News24. Retrieved 6 February 2017.
  36. "Joost van der Westhuizen: Still fighting on his deathbed". BBC Sport. 19 August 2013. Retrieved 12 February 2017.
  37. "Joost van der Westhuizen diagnosed with motor neurone disease". The Guardian. 12 May 2011. Retrieved 7 February 2017.
  38. Peacock, James (19 August 2013). "Joost van der Westhuizen: Still fighting on his deathbed". BBC Sport. Retrieved 23 September 2013.
  39. "Joost flies to USA for motor neurone studies". ESPN Scrum. 28 January 2014. Retrieved 28 January 2014.
  40. "Joost van der Westhuizen in motor neurone disease research drive". BBC News. 15 November 2013. Retrieved 6 February 2017.
  41. Muller, Antoinette (9 September 2015). "Joost van der Westhuizen: Glory Game has a vital role to play in MND awareness". Daily Maverick. Retrieved 16 February 2019.
  42. "Joost se familie versoek privaatheid". Maroela Media (in Afrikaans). Retrieved 7 February 2017.
  43. "BREAKING: Joost van der Westhuizen dies". Sport24. News24. Retrieved 6 February 2017.
  44. "Joost van der Westhuizen kritiek". Maroela Media (in Afrikaans). 4 February 2017. Retrieved 6 February 2017.
  45. "Joost to be laid to rest on Friday". Sport. Retrieved 7 February 2017.