Tributes continue to pour in for Chester Williams, the only black player on South Africa’s famed 1995 Rugby World Cup winning team, who died Friday of a heart attack. He was 49.
“This was horrible news to wake up to this morning,” said Rassie Erasmus, director of rugby with the Springbok squad travelling in Japan.
“There was a very sombre mood in the breakfast room, it really is unbelievable news,” he said.
“Chester Williams’s death at this tender age leaves all South Africans bereft of a rugby hero and national role model who still had a great deal to offer his sport and his country,” said President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Williams is an iconic figure in South African sport.
Although the famous World Cup win of 1995 came after the end of apartheid, rugby still held the perception of being a sport for the white population of South Africa.
Williams helped change that, playing a key role in the ’95 triumph and blazing a path for the likes of Springbok stars Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen, who were on the wings for South Africa’s other World Cup victory in 2007.
Williams played 27 Tests for the Boks between 1993 and 2000, scoring 14 tries in that time.
He played for Western Province and the Golden Lions during his provincial career, which stretched from 1991 to 2000. He also had two seasons of Super Rugby with the Cats.
Since retiring, Williams had spent time as coach of the Springbok Sevens team and the Pumas and had recently been working as head rugby coach for the University of Western Cape.
“Desperately saddened to hear of Chester Williams passing,” World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont tweeted.
“A symbol of the rainbow nation, Chester’s name will forever epitomize a remarkable and transformational Rugby World Cup 1995. We’ve lost a great, engaging man far too soon,” Beaumont added.
Williams’ passing means South Africa has now lost four members of its iconic 1995 World Cup winning team.
Williams’ death comes just two months after fellow winger James Small died of a heart attack aged 50.
Two years ago scrum-half Joost van der Westhuizen died after battling motor neurone disease while flanker Ruben Kruger died in 2010 from brain cancer.