A no-nonsense player on the field, Small, who in contrast was a deep-thinking individual off the field, scored 20 tries for the Boks and made history on three occasions – playing in the first Test after readmission (24-27 defeat to New Zealand at Ellis Park in 1992); winning the Rugby World Cup in 1995 (15-12 victory over New Zealand at Ellis Park); and being the first Bok to be sent off in a Test match (20-28 defeat to Australia in Brisbane in 1993).
Well-known radio and TV journalist David O'Sullivan touchingly wrote on BizNews: "I knew James well enough to enjoy a few beers in his company.
"The last time I saw him was last Thursday when we met up at the Southern Sun Hyde Park and made tentative arrangements to hook up in Yokohama for the Springboks’ opening game of the Rugby World Cup against New Zealand.
"He was going to Japan with several teammates from the 1995 World Cup-winning squad. He told me they were all furious with Faf du Plessis for saying that not winning the Cricket World Cup wasn’t the end of the world…
"When asked if winning the World Cup was the greatest elation he’d ever felt, he gave an emphatic reply. 'No! The birth of my children…!' And then the tears welled up again."
Former Springbok player and coach Rudolf Straeuli has described the sudden passing of former teammate and friend Small as being “like losing a brother” and wants rugby fans to know that the sometimes controversial winger had a big, soft heart.
“James would be the last guy on the field signing autographs and meeting the fans. He wanted everyone to be happy,” Straeuli, chief executive of the Golden Lions, told The Star.
“He also used to give all the PA ladies a bunch of flowers when he left a union. He was a man with a soft, kind heart; not always what you saw in the media or on TV.
"James was also a great rugby player and team man; he had so much energy, and so much enthusiasm… he’ll be missed.”
R.I.P LEGEND.WILL ALWAYS REMEMBER YOU AS ONE OF THE BEST. pic.twitter.com/9zjuvzVK3i— Bakkies Botha (@BakkiesBotha4) July 10, 2019
I'm shocked and v saddened to hear about James Small. Not the easiest oke to ref on the field but one of the kindest off it. Amazing self belief and always keen to challenge, its probably what made him special. A hero, a great Bok, a friend.. RIP Bro. You made the most of life!— Jonathan Kaplan (@RefJK) July 10, 2019