Springbok ‘one of the best’

Halfback battle: Springbok Joost van der Westhuizen runs towards Justin Marshall, right, during a Test in Dunedin in 2003 PICTURE: GETTY IMAGES

Ex-All Black Justin Marshall says his South African rugby opposite Joost van der Westhuizen, who died this week, was “one of the best ever”.

Halfback Van der Westhuizen, who helped South Africa win the 1995 World Cup, died on Monday aged 45, after a long battle with motor neurone disease.

Marshall, who lives in Queenstown, enjoyed an eight-year rivalry with the Springbok great.

The Sky Sport commentator also considered him a mate.

“At times I was really competitive with him but at other times he was just the genius that he was – one of the best players on the planet.

“He could flip a game with a moment of brilliance that I could do nothing about.”

Marshall says he and Aussie rival and mate George Gregan visited Van der Westhuizen twice during his six-year battle with motor neurone.

He helped launch his motor neurone foundation and, in a second visit, helped raise money both for the foundation and Van der Westhuizen’s ongoing medical costs.

But it was also to spend some personal time with him, Marshall says.

“He’d lost his ability to speak but was able to grunt through an interpreter.”

Late last year, the pair engaged in email banter over the Springboks’ dismal performances – “he was able to communicate through a paraplegic device”.

He adds the only consolation is that Van der Westhuizen was originally only given two years to live – “it still doesn’t make it any easier or doesn’t make it less sad”.

“He leaves behind two very young children and he’s just gone from this world too early.”

Marshall adds that in recent times, too many other former internationals, like Fijian Seru Rabeni, Irishman Anthony Foley and All Blacks Jonah Lomu, Jerry Collins and Norm Berryman, have also died too early.

“Throw Joost in, as well, and they’re all leaving behind kids.

“It’s quite frightening, really.”