News / Opinion

Thamsanqa Mkwanazi
2 minute read
7 Feb 2017
10:09 am

Joost was a selfless leader on and off the field

Thamsanqa Mkwanazi

How many times can you and I say that we thought of others when we were in pain or were in the deepest and darkest parts of our lives?

Thamsanqa Mkwanazi.

This week turned out to be a rather sad one for most South Africans, as former Springbok Joost van der Westhuizen lost the battle with Motor Neuron (MND) Disease. Since I studied at a so-called “English” school – which offered soccer instead of rugby – I learnt a whole lot from the man.

After a week of specially-flighted programmes on the influential figure, I now know a little bit more about the sport than I did. For instance, I have learnt that, unlike in other sports, the number on the back of rugby players’ backs has nothing to do with the game, but it is rather how much they are mentally able to count up to.

I have seen a number of tribute programmes dedicated to Van der Westhuizen, you know those ones where all his teammates and opponents are asked to say something about the person, and they all agrees that he was one of the best scrum-halves in the world. And that got me think as to why, if he was so good, he was not a full scrum?

It turns out that this is the name of the position the man excelled at, but there is still confusion around it. My unreliable sources could be spreading fake news at my expense, but they told me that a scrum-half is a comparatively smaller player with a loud voice who is willing to face guys double his size. This man must suffer from “short man syndrome” so that he can overcompensate and be able to shout orders at the gigantic forwards. They say scrum-halves are like those tiny dogs that are convinced they are Great Danes.

Off the field, I only got to know the man when we invested heavily into helping those with MND, something that all of us can learn from. How many times can you and I say that we thought of others when we were in pain or were in the deepest and darkest parts of our lives?

I may never understand why the hooker needs to be a fat guy who can run fast; how it is  possible for a half-back to throw a wayward ball; when his one and only job is to pass the ball properly; the most mentally stable position is the loosehead, and why they pass the squashed ball backwards in order to go forward, but I did learn that you can be a selfless leader on and off the field. That is something Mr Van der Westhuizen did very well. Where do I sign up to play as a permanent substitute?