Gone too soon, while he still had so much to give to South African rugby. That was the general comment at the funeral service of South African rugby legend, James Small, in Johannesburg on Thursday afternoon.
Small passed away last Wednesday, aged 50, after suffering a heart attack.
Hundreds of family members, friends, supporters as well as the rugby fraternity gathered to pay their last respects to a giant of the game.
Small was a key member of the 1995 Springbok squad that lifted the Webb Ellis Trophy at Ellis Park.
He gained hero status for preventing New Zealand’s Jonah Lomu from scoring during that World Cup final.
Former teammate Rudolf StraeulI says, “Today we are mourning, but we are also celebrating a special brother in our 1995 group. He has made a big difference in my life and the lives of many South Africans. So, today we are not just mourning, but celebrating on Madiba Day. Thank you, James, for what you have done for South African rugby.”
He was born in Cape Town on the 10th of February 1969, attended high school in Johannesburg and started plying his trade domestically for the then Transvaal, the Natal Sharks and finally, Western Province.
He was known as the original bad boy of South African rugby both on and off the field.
He became the first Springbok to be sent off in a test match after showing dissent towards English referee Ed Morrison against Australia in Brisbane in 1993.
But for those close to him, he was a very special human being and rugby player.
Brother-in-law Gavin Houlston says, “I am going to miss the long lunches and deep rugby discussions. It really is too much to mention. He was really a very kind-hearted, very deep-thinking man that holds a very special place in all our hearts. On behalf of our family, it’s difficult to put into words and it’s going to be hard to move on without him.”
Former teammate Gary Teichmann says, “He brought so much energy to teams; so much love to kids. He was very passionate about kids. He always made time for kids.”
The winger made his debut for the Springboks against New Zealand at Ellis Park in 1992 and played in 47 Tests until 1997, scoring 20 Test tries.
And fittingly the Boks, who start their Rugby Championship campaign against the Wallabies on Saturday, will play in honour of Small.
Springbok Captain Siya Kolisi says, “There’s a couple of stuffs happening on the jerseys on behalf of him. He is a huge part of our rugby history. I know the boys will give something special.”
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