The Glory of '95: Doddie Weir draws inspiration from 'groot piesang' Joost
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IN a tournament featuring Ian Jones, John Eales, Olivier Roumat, Mark Andrews and Martin Johnson, Scottish lock Doddie Weir was going to find it difficult to stand apart.
Weir, then 24-years-old during the 1995 Rugby World Cup, was an honest, hard worker, much loved by teammates and respected by opponents. But he lacked the game-changing impact of the quintet mentioned above. And yet Weir is an adored Scottish international - winner of 61 caps, the seventh of which came in the semi-final in the 1991 World Cup against England - “Gavin (Hastings) missed one of the easiest kicks about,” costing the Scots a shot at playing in the final - and earned British & Irish Lions selection for the tour to South Africa in 1997.
In 2017 he was diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease, the same disorder that eventually led to the death of Springbok great Joost van der Westhuizen that same year. “Basically this is a muscle wasting disease,” Weir said in a BBC interview earlier this year.
“That’s how in the later life of MND it’s horrific, because you basically need help everywhere. Basically your muscles in your legs disappear, you can’t walk, you can’t really eat, your muscles for speech disappear so you can’t speak, you can’t swallow and then you can’t breath. So it’s horrific what happens.
“It’s hard, quite tricky, because as a bloke, you think you’re just fine, but with this, that is not the case.”
Weir said he drew inspiration from Van der Westhuizen’s fight against the disorder.
“Joost was determined to try and find a cure for this horrific disease and very much became a hero of mine,” Weir told Sport24 in 2018. “When Joost visited Murrayfield for the Test in 2013, I saw how brave he was in fighting MND. Having been diagnosed in 2011, he wasn’t very well when he came to Scotland, but I was able to share a few words with him.”
The South African flag was draped over the coffin of Joost van der Westhuizen at his funeral. Picture: EPA
Weir followed Van der Westhuizen’s lead in establishing his own foundation - My Name’5 Doddie - to provide assistance to those battling the disease. In the last three years, Weir has become a very popular figure on the speaking circuit around the UK and is often clad in his signature tartan colours, which are officially registered with the Scottish Register of Tartans.
It’s got black and yellow - a nod to Melrose, the first senior team Weir played for, from 1991 to 1995, and also the blue and white of Scotland reflecting his decade-long international career.
Memories of his rugby playing days are hazy, Weir admits, but not because of the disease. “A lot of people can remember all the games, I just go and have a great time, whatever it is and whatever it isn’t and forget everything. I think it’s got a lot to do with alcohol,” he laughed.
Weir retains a charming wit, even in recalling his battles with Van der Westhuizen.
“On the field, Joost was out of this world. His ability, speed and awareness was second to none - he truly had it all. I was a big fan, as he was such an inspirational character when he played. In 1994, we were playing against South Africa at Murrayfield and Joost broke down the blindside and scored a try.
"I got blamed for that five-pointer and never played at No 8 again,” Weir said. “I also spoke to Joost at times in my best Afrikaans and called him some rude names between the four white lines to try and get under his skin. I remember calling him a ‘groot piesang’ in one match.”
As for his two tries against the All Blacks in the 1995 World Cup quarter-final: “scored from about 900 yards,” Weir chirped.
During lockdown, Weir has plenty to keep him occupied he said in his podcast - aptly named the 'Dodcast'. “Isolation has not been that tricky at this time of year because we are very busy with the lambing,” Weir said from Bluecairn, his 300-acre farm, situated south of the Scottish capital, Edinburgh, last month.
“I’m out, believe it or not, driving my tractor that I enjoy for two or three hours a day to rake the grass for the new grass to come through. It’s quite a busy time of the year and the isolation has made it more of a family effort than normal.”