Joost van der Westhuizen former South Africa captain dies, aged 45

Former South Africa captain Joost van der Westhuizen has died aged 45, six years after he was diagnosed with the debilitating motor neurone disease.

Van der Westhuizen won the World Cup with the Springboks in 1995.

Regarded as one of the finest scrum-halves in history, he won 89 international caps between 1993 and 2003, scoring 38 tries.

He captained the Springboks for four years, including at the 1999 World Cup, before his retirement in 2003.

After winning the Tri-Nations Championship in 1998, he was named captain for the 1999 World Cup – at which South Africa finished third – before retiring after defeat by New Zealand in the quarter-finals of the 2003 tournament.

Van der Westhuizen made his Springboks debut the year after the team were readmitted to international rugby and was their record try-scorer until Bryan Habana surpassed him in 2011.

After being diagnosed with MND, a rare condition that progressively damages parts of the nervous system and impacts on important muscle activity such as walking, speaking and breathing, he set up the J9 Foundation, which provides support and care to people with the disease.

The former Blue Bulls player first noticed something was wrong at the end of 2008, when he felt some weakness in his right arm.

He presumed it was an old rugby injury flaring up and paid little more attention to it. Then a few months later he was play-fighting in a swimming pool with an old friend, Henry Kelbrick, who is also his personal doctor, and the weakness in his arm became even more apparent.

The diagnosis was amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, one of the most common forms of motor neurone disease.

The archetypal Springbok admits he made mistakes in his life after rugby, but is now finally at peace.


[Motor neurone disease is a rare condition that progressively damages parts of the nervous system. This leads to muscle weakness, often with visible wasting.
Motor neurone disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), occurs when specialist nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord called motor neurones stop working properly. This is known as neurodegeneration.
Motor neurones control important muscle activity, such as:
gripping
walking
speaking
swallowing
breathing
As the condition progresses, people with motor neurone disease will find some or all of these activities increasingly difficult. Eventually, they may become impossible.]

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