IT COMES AS no surprise to hear CJ Stander has idolised the late Joost van der Westhuizen for as long as he can remember.
Former Springbok captain van der Westhuizen, who passed away yesterday at the age of 45 following a long battle with motor neurone disease, was known for his fearlessness on the field, a trait which has become synonymous with Stander.
While van der Westhuizen operated at the base of the ruck, back row Stander was deeply inspired by the scrum-half’s attitude on and off the field.
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The 1995 Rugby World Cup final against New Zealand 22 years ago was particularly stirring for Stander, and of course so many other Springbok fans, when van der Westhuizen, a big scrum-half but a No 9 nonetheless, did what few else could do, and put down monstrous All Black wing Jonah Lomu, not once but three times.
“He was really the first guy I looked up to when I was a youngster, he was an unbelievable player, an unbelievable human being,” Stander recalls.
“He brought something to the game that was just unbelievable hard work matched with talent … the way he stopped a massive guy in Jonah Lomu in the Rugby World Cup.
“I think it was one of my first memories you know. Just to put your head down, it doesn’t matter what size you are, who you are, what you are.
“Just put your head down and stop those big guys and that’s something I remember from him.”