Tributes pour in for 'warrior' Joost van der Westhuizen following death aged 45

World Cup winner Joost van der Westhuizen has been hailed as a "warrior" by rugby stars across the globe.

The former South Africa scrum-half died on Monday at the age of 45, having been diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2011.

Tributes poured in from all quarters for the 89-cap half-back, for facing his illness with the same tenacity he was known for on the rugby field.

A public memorial service for Van der Westhuizen will be held at Loftus Versfeld, the Blue Bulls ground where he made his name, on Friday.

"Both as a player and person, he was a warrior and a fighter," former Springboks coach Heyneker Meyer told Timeslive.co.za.

"He never lost that fighting spirit."

Van der Westhuizen became one of rugby's greatest scrum-halves in a 10-year Springboks career which began in 1993 and comprised 38 tries.

The gritty competitor proved central to South Africa's 1995 World Cup triumph on home soil, with their Webb Ellis Cup-winning captain Francois Pienaar declaring: "Joost was extraordinary on the field and then fought until the end."

A statement from his charity, the J9 Foundation, confirmed Van der Westhuizen's death on Monday, and later the details of the public memorial service.

"It is with great sadness that we confirm the passing of Joost," read the short statement, released on Facebook.

"He passed away in his home surrounded by his loved ones. He will be sorely missed."

Van der Westhuizen had set up the J9 Foundation to aid others suffering from motor neurone disease.

His former wife Amor Vittone, mother of Van der Westhuizen's two children, offered her own tribute on Facebook, posting: "It is with sorrow and a heavy heart that we had to say farewell to Joost.

"We are surrounded by family, friends and lots of love. Joost, rest in peace.

"Jordan and Kylie will keep you in their hearts forever. You are up in heaven without any pain. You were and still are my first love. We love you."

Van der Westhuizen starred in the Springboks' 15-12 World Cup final win over New Zealand in 1995, the victory that helped usher in an era of change for South Africa as a nation.

The scrum-half has remained famed ever since for a pivotal tackle on giant All Blacks wing Jonah Lomu.

Van der Westhuizen was hit by health scares and family strife in 2008, first suffering a suspected heart attack then becoming embroiled in a sex tape and cocaine scandal.

The former Blue Bulls star lost his job as a television pundit with South African broadcaster Supersport, and then his marriage to singer Amor Vittone broke down.


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