'Incredible legacy': World rugby icon dies

Author
NZ Herald,
Section
Rugby,
Publish Date
Saturday, 7 September 2019, 11:23AM
South Africa's Chester Williams, pictured on June 10, 1995 a Rugby World Cup match against Western Samoa in Johannesburg. Photo / AP
South Africa's Chester Williams, pictured on June 10, 1995 a Rugby World Cup match against Western Samoa in Johannesburg. Photo / AP

Chester Williams, the only black member of South Africa's 1995 World Cup winning team, has passed away at the age of 49.

Reports in South Africa suggest that Williams suffered a heart attack following a gym session. Williams scored 14 tries in 27 Test for the Springboks between 1993 and 2000 but those numbers alone do scant justice to the legacy he will leave.

A hamstring injury forced Williams to pull out of the South African squad on the eve of the 1995 World Cup, but when Pieter Hendricks was suspended for a red card, the wing returned to the team, scoring four tries against Samoa in the quarter-final. He subsequently started the semi-final against France and in the final against New Zealand which South Africa won 15-12.

As the sole black representative of that Springbok team, Williams quickly became one of the faces of the tournament alongside captain Francois Pienaar and South African president Nelson Mandela. He became the symbol of a multi-racial Springbok side, even if he felt uneasy with that role.

As a coach, he had spells with the Springbok Sevens team, the Cats and Pumas in Super Rugby, and most recently was head coach at the University of Western Cape (UWC).

He becomes the fourth member of that team to pass away after Ruben Kruger, Joost van der Westhuizen and James Small, the other wing who died from a heart attack less than two months ago. Kitch Christie, the coach, has also passed away.

Last night, Mark Alexander, the president of the South African Rugby Union, paid tribute to Williams. "The news of Chester's passing is devastating and hard to believe, as he was still young and seemingly in good health," Alexander said. "Chester was a true pioneer in South African rugby and his performances at the World Cup in 1995, as a snapshot of his Springbok career, will forever be etched in the hearts and minds of our rugby public."