Former Springbok captain Joost van der Westhuizen dies

The 45-year-old had been battling motor neuron disease since 2011.

FILE: Former Springboks scrumhalf Joost van der Westhuizen talks to the media during a press conference for the Rugby World Cup in Perth on 15 October 2003.  Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG - Former Springbok captain Joost van der Westhuizen has died.

On Saturday, the J9 Foundation confirmed on its Facebook page that the 45-year-old, who suffered from motor neuron disease, had been admitted to hospital.

He had been battling the disease since 2011 and in January he denied reports that he required oxygen in order to assist him breathe.

Van der Westhuizen played 89 times for the Springboks, captaining them at the 1999 Rugby World Cup.

Joost van der Westhuizen. Picture: AFP.

Before his passing, he had been confined to a wheelchair.

In a statement confirming his passing, the J9 Foundation said that the Van Der Westhuizen family has been left devastated by the former scrumhalf's death.

"The family remain strong under the circumstances, however are devastated at the loss. This is a great loss to so many around the world and the family would like to extend their greatest gratitude for the love and support shown over this difficult time.

"We ask that the family’s privacy be respected at this time and funeral arrangements will be notified in due course."

SA Rugby president Mark Alexander has paid tribute to the scrumhalf, describing Van der Westhuizen as one of the greatest Springbok players of all time.

"Joost will be remembered as one of the greatest Springboks – not only of his generation, but of all time,” said Alexander said.

"As a player, he lifted the Rugby World Cup, Tri-Nations and Currie Cup while establishing himself as one of the best scrumhalves world rugby has ever seen. He was the record holder for the most Test tries for the Springboks for more than 13 years and finished his international career with 38 Test tries.

"He also became an inspiration and hero to many fellow sufferers of this terrible disease as well as to those unaffected. We all marvelled at his bravery, his fortitude and his uncomplaining acceptance of this terrible burden.

"It’s a sad day for rugby in South Africa and across the globe as we say goodbye to a legend of the Springboks. Our condolences go to his family and friends at this sad, sad time."

Alexander added that Van der Westhuizen was without peer at a time when the top rugby teams in the world had great scrumhalves.

“He could do things no-one else could and it was his unpredictability as a scrumhalf that dazzled opponents and gave his supporters so much reason to cheer,” said Mr Alexander.

“Joost epitomised what it meant to represent South Africa on the rugby field and always showed a remarkable fighting spirit throughout his career, but also in recent years during his illness.

“He was a hero and a role model for so many young rugby players in the early years of professionalism and he taught a generation of South Africans what it meant to be a Springbok. His passion for his country and the Boks will always stand out and he will be sadly missed.

“To lose a Springbok legend at such a young age is very sad, but his memory will never die. I salute you Joost on behalf of South African rugby."

President Jacob Zuma has also expressed his sadness on the passing of Van der Westhuizen.

"South Africa has lost a legend and one of the best rugby players that the country has ever produced. On behalf of the Government and the people of South Africa, our heartfelt condolences to Mr van der Westhuizen’s family. May his soul rest in peace," said President Zuma.

WATCH: Remembering rugby legend Joost van der Westhuizen