Johannesburg - Former Springbok captain Morne du Plessis led the tributes for the late James Small, as the funeral for the World Cup winning Springbok rugby player was held at the Wanderers Club in Johannesburg on Thursday.
“My lasting impression of James would be generosity of spirit. And James certainly gave it all. We all loved James. I wish all his family and friends courage during this difficult time,” said Du Plessis via a video message as he is currently in France.
A moment of silence was also held for musician Johnny Clegg and Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates player Marc Batchelor, who both died during the last week.
Television presenter Darren Scott started proceedings with a short tribute to Small. Former Springbok Stefan Terblance led the opening prayers.
Making tributes of their own to Small were current Springbok captain Siya Kolisi and former skipper Gary Teichman.
The pallbearers were Evan Speechly, Teichman, Kobus Wiese, Japie Mulder, Kieran Houlston and Gavin Houlston.
The were about 300 mourners in attendance at the funeral.
Earlier, Springbok stars, both past and present, teammates, and members of the public began arriving for the funeral ahead of the 2pm start of the service.
Former Springbok teammates Rudolf Straeuli, Teichman Andre Pretorius, Pieter Hendriks, Wiese, Mulder were all in attendance, as was Kolisi.
Teichman said it was a "very sad day to lose James, as he was still so young and had so much still to offer”.
"How we must remember him, his passion for people, the game, and the Springboks. If we remember that then we honour him.”
Kolisi, the current Springbok skipper also described Thursday as a "very sad day”.
South Africa play Australia in the Rugby Championship opener in Johannesburg on Saturday and Kolisi said Small had played a major role in opening the door for smaller players.
"Small guys that you think they won't make it because rugby is a big man's sport, the challenges that he had to play against Jonah Lomu and how he just handled himself, guys like Cheslin (Kolbe) who are very small, Herschel Jantjies who are also doing the same thing.”
Jantjies will make his Springbok debut on Saturday and Kolisi said Small was a role model for many in the sport. "I met him a couple of times and what a positive human being, always had words of encouragement. Those are the memories.”
Small died in Johannesburg from a heart attack at the age of 50 on July 10.
A prolific wing during his playing career, Small played 47 Tests for the Springboks from 1992 and 1997. He was a key member of the 1995 Springbok side which won the Rugby World Cup on home soil, beating New Zealand 15-12 in the final at Ellis Park.