SYDNEY • Australia and New Zealand yesterday saluted "extraordinary" South African rugby legend Joost van der Westhuizen, hailing his skill and leadership as an inspiration.
The former scrum-half and Springboks captain who won the 1995 Rugby World Cup, died on Monday aged 45 after a battle with motor neurone disease which left him frail and in a wheelchair. But he will be remembered as one of the greatest scrum-halves of all time.
"Rugby world lost another great person and player," former Wallabies back David Campese tweeted. "Joost ... will be remembered for the great fight he had to fight. RIP my friend."
Ex-Wallabies centre Tim Horan added: "Loved playing against and with you Joost. The most competitive player I ever played against. You are an inspiration to all. #RIPJoost."
Australian Rugby Union chief Bill Pulver said in a statement he died too early.
"Joost was a truly extraordinary rugby player and having read about his efforts with the J9 Foundation he sounds like an equally extraordinary human being.
"At 45, his great life has ended too early," he said.
Former New Zealand scrum-half Justin Marshall said that at his peak, van der Westhuizen was the best player in the world.
"He just had an ability, on the flip of a coin, to change a game ... a player like that was someone you could never underestimate, was always dangerous," he told New Zealand radio.
He added his great on-field rivalry with van der Westhuizen developed into a close friendship off the pitch and he admired the tenacity with which he battled the terminal disease.
All Black great Dan Carter also paid tribute.
He tweeted: "He was one of the few non All Black players I adored. Such sad news!"
Van der Westhuizen's finest moment in a successful career was when he set up the Joel Stransky drop goal which won the World Cup for the Springboks.
Watched by then South Africa President Nelson Mandela at the Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg, van der Westhuizen delivered a pass from the base of the scrum as the clock ticked down in extra time.
Stransky kicked the goal to give the Springboks a 15-12 win over the All Blacks to become world champions for the first time.
Van der Westhuizen was South Africa's record cap holder at the time of his retirement in 2003, playing 89 Tests.