Joost van der Westhuizen was a giant of South African rugby and one of the best halfbacks of all time.
His death at 45 from motor neurone disease seems particularly cruel considering the physicality he was known for on the field.
Van der Westhuizen was born in Pretoria in February 1971 and spent his entire senior career at the Blue Bulls between 1993 and 2003.
He captained the Bulls to the Currie Cup crown in 1998 and 2002, and also starred for them on the Super Rugby stage.
Possessing an unusually large frame for a scrum-half – at 6ft 1in (186cm) and weighing nearly 90kg – Van der Westhuizen thrived during games of high intensity.
A dramatic dive pass to a waiting five-eighth was also a signature of his game.
Van der Westhuizen made his international debut in 1993, a year after the Springboks were re-admitted to the international arena after the end of apartheid rule.
South Africa hosted the 1995 World Cup and there would be a pot of gold at the end of the competition for the ‘Rainbow Nation’.
The most enduring memory he provided was of stopping Jonah Lomu, the fearsome 6ft 5in and 115kg-plus New Zealand winger, in a 15-12 World Cup final victory over the All Blacks.
Lomu made a typical battering run from deep and defied several challenges before Van der Westhuizen hauled him down just outside the 22-metre line.
Van der Westhuizen’s continued excellence and leadership saw him named captain for South Africa’s 1999 World Cup defence, but the Springboks suffered heartbreak in a semi-final defeat to Australia.
By the time of his third World Cup in 2003 he was past his best, and South Africa were thrashed 29-9 by New Zealand at the quarter-final stage.
It was his 89th and final Test appearance – a Springboks record at the time.
He had also scored 38 Test tries, which stood as a South Africa record until Bryan Habana beat the mark at the 2011 World Cup.
Former Ireland star Brian O’Driscoll was among the first to offer condolences on social media, tweeting: “RIP Joost van der Westhuizen. An incredible player and fighter to the end. The first of the new age 9’s”.
England head coach Eddie Jones ranked Van der Westhuizen as among the game’s best scrum-halves, saying: “He was an influential player, a dynamic leader of the team.
“He was a modern day half-back even back then – big and fast, he could control a game.”
Van der Westhuizen became a rugby commentator after his playing career and was inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame in 2007.
He 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.
He lost his job as a television pundit with broadcaster, and then his marriage to Amor Vittone broke down after he confirmed allegations of an extra-marital affair and drug use.
Van der Westhuizen was confined to a wheelchair after being diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2011.
He set up the J9 Foundation to raise awareness of MND and offer help to those families affected by it.
Van der Westhuizen is survived by his two children – son Jordan and daughter Kylie.
“You are up in heaven without any pain. You were and still are my first love. We love you,” Vittone said on Facebook.