Dubai: Even as South Africa prepare to battle for back-to-back Rugby World Cup titles when the 2011 edition kicks off in New Zealand this Friday, one Springbok legend will be preparing for his own personal battle, one whose outcome he knows only too well. A member of the historic 1995 World Cup winning squad, scrum-half Joost van der Westhuizen, who is in Dubai as part of the OSN team which will broadcast the event live in HD, is fighting a losing battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a form of motor neuron disease. Doctors have given him an 80 per cent chance of living between two to five years.
Talking to the handsome 40-year-old, one can make out the sad and faraway look in his eyes, as he tries to hide his emotional turbulence behind a smile and a sharp wit. His speech has been affected and he points to his left arm which has become weak.
"It's been an emotional roller coaster for me ever since I learned of the doctor's diagnosis," he told XPRESS.
"But I am a realist. If I have only so long to live, it will be a life of quality. I plan to spend the remaining time with my two kids, live life to the full rather than be alone and pine away," added the man who separated from his wife only last year.
And he intends to start off by taking his children to Disneyland and to see the great migration of wildebeest in Serengeti. "I intend to go to Disneyland in January next year. I have got a nice bucket list for two years," he said.
And first on his bucket list was this trip to Dubai. "I have always loved coming to Dubai, it's an amazing place. This time I had a choice of going to New Zealand and coming to Dubai and I chose the latter," he said.
Van der Westhuizen is most famously remembered for his try-saving tackle on marauding Kiwi wing Jonah Lomu during South Africa's victory in the 1995 World Cup final, events that inspired the movie Invictus. "I had two cracked ribs and had taken injections and strapped the area before the match. It was such a momentous occasion and passion was running high. He [Lomu] had to be stopped if we were to win and there was no way I could pass that chance. Mentally I was well prepared," he said.
It's been 16 years since his most cherished moment and now Van Der Westhuizen wishes to cherish every moment till the inevitable end comes.
- Van Der Westhuizen has been capped 89 times for the Springboks
- He has scored 38 tries, the most by a scrum-half
- He has played in three World Cups, captaining the 1999 side