File picture of Tinus Linee.

Cape Town – His speech started slurring last year, but it was only recently that former Springbok Tinus Linee found out he was suffering from a rare and deadly illness.

His wife Diana told the Cape Argus on Tuesday that the rugby player had been diagnosed with motor neuron disease, the same illness that has affected Springbok legend Joost van der Westhuizen, who was diagnosed in 2011.

The disease slowly destroys parts of the nervous system that control functions such as speaking, walking, swallowing and even breathing.

Diana said that when she got the news, she was depressed.

“But Tinus was actually the one who pulled me out of it… Everything is fine now.”

Diana said her husband, 43, who was still able to walk, eat and get dressed, was doing his best to enjoy life and not let his illness hold him back. “He’s taking it day by day.”

Linee, whose ability to speak has been severely hampered, was unable to comment.

Diana said he was often difficult to understand.

She added that the rugby community had been “incredibly supportive”.

Members of the Western Province rugby side were to visit in Linee at his Paarl home on Tuesday..

Joost, despite being partly wheelchair bound, has made numerous public appearances. Last month the World Cup-winning scrum-half was part of the celebrations around the opening of a rugby museum at the V&A Waterfront.

On Tuesday, Twitter and other social media were flooded with theories surrounding the disease’s apparent link to contact sports, but Johan Reid, a Bellville neurologist, was quick to dispel the “myths”.

“All these theories that are circulating around are just old wives’ tales,” he said. “The fact is the neurological community doesn’t know the cause.”

Reid said it was a horrible and destructive disease.

“Your body slowly dies while your mind is completely intact.”

Linee made his Springbok debut in 1993 and went to Romania as the assistant coach of the Timisoara Rugby Club in 2012.

His health started deteriorating on his return in February. – Cape Argus/Sapa