James Small passed away on Wednesday, 10 July 2019. Photo: Anne Laing

JOHANNESBURG – Former Springbok player and coach Rudolf Straeuli has described the sudden passing of former teammate and friend James 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,” said Straeuli yesterday.

“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.”

Small, who played provincial rugby for the Lions, Sharks and Western Province and 47 Tests for the Springboks, died of a heart attack aged 50 yesterday.

His biggest moment in a colourful career came at the 1995 World Cup where in the final against the favourites, New Zealand, he went up against the then star of the game, the giant wing Jonah Lomu. The All Blacks’ newest star had run circles around, and over, opponents on the way to the final at Ellis Park, but on the day that mattered, Small and his teammates didn’t let Lomu get near the tryline.

The manager of the Bok team in 1995, Morné du Plessis, said yesterday he’d like Small to be remembered for so much more than one 80-minute performance.

“He’ll be remembered for keeping Lomu at bay, but that was such a little part of his life. He was bigger than that ... he had a huge heart, he always stood up for others, and during that 1995 tournament, whenever we needed someone to do something for the team, James would step forward. He was always first in the queue.

“His loyalty can never be doubted ... the rugby family will remember him very fondly.”

Du Plessis added: “James was almost like a son to me during that World Cup, and while all the squad members have drifted apart, our bond has always remained intact. All those guys from the 95 team were great, but James’s team-mates will agree, he was a special team man.

“He was a hugely emotional character, and he brought that emotion into the team ... he gave everything he had, he was just so passionate.”

Small is the fourth member of the victorious 1995 team to have passed away, after coach Kitch Christie and players Ruben Kruger and Joost van der Westhuizen.

Another former teammate, fellow wing Chester Williams, said he’d remember Small fondly.

“He was so eccentric, so passionate and energetic,” said Williams, who with Small filled the two wing positions in the Bok team that won the World Cup at Ellis Park in 1995.

“With Andre Joubert (the full-back), we had a little thing going there, the three of us. James brought the vibe and energy to the team and I’ll miss him dearly. He was always the fun guy.”

Former referee Jonathan Kaplan said of Small: “I’m shocked and saddened by this news. James was not the easiest oke to ref on the field, but one of the kindest off it; amazing self-belief and always keen for a challenge ... it’s probably what made him special.”

@jacq_west

 

The Star

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