Chester Williams’s 1995 heroics ‘forever etched in the public mind’

Chester Williams died on Friday aged 49.
Chester Williams died on Friday aged 49.
Image: Esa Alexander

SA Rugby president Mark Alexander has mourned the death of Springbok legend Chester Williams, saying the 1995 Rugby World Cup winner was a “true pioneer”.

Williams died aged 49 on Friday after suffering a suspected heart attack.

He was a member of the victorious 1995 World Cup-winning Springbok team and the first black player to establish himself in the national team immediately after the Springboks returned to international rugby.

South Africa learnt of iconic rugby player Chester Williams’ death late on September 6 2019. Williams was the the first black rugby player to play for South Africa. He died of a suspected heart attack.

“The news of Chester’s passing is devastating and hard to believe, as he was still young and seemingly in good health,” said Alexander.

“Chester was a true pioneer in SA rugby and his performances at the World Cup in 1995, as a snapshot of his Springbok career, will forever be etched in the hearts and minds of our rugby public."

He said Williams was not only well known in the rugby fraternity but also a much-loved South African whose influence stretched wider than just the rugby world.

“He was passionate about rugby and SA and, as coach at various levels, selflessly gave back to the game after he'd hung up his boots. He played with courage and was a beacon of light in his community and in the broader SA context," he added.

“Chester Williams had so much more to give. Our thoughts and condolences are with his wife, Maria, and his children, family and friends during this very sad time."

Nicknamed the “Black Pearl”, Williams was born in Paarl on August 8 1970. He played for DHL Western Province and the Xerox Golden Lions during his provincial career, which stretched from 1991 to 2000. He also had two seasons of Vodacom Super Rugby with the Cats.

Williams made his Springbok debut against Argentina in 1993 and played 27 Tests for SA until his last against Wales in 2000, scoring 14 Test tries. In total, he played 47 matches in the green and gold and scored 27 tries.

In 1995, he was a member of the initial Springbok squad for the Rugby World Cup but withdrew due to injury shortly before the tournament started. He was later recalled and scored four tries in the quarterfinal against Samoa.

Williams was named the SA Rugby Player of the Year in 1994. Apart from lifting the Webb Ellis Cup in 1995, he was also a member of the Springbok squad that won the Rugby Championship (then the Tri-Nations) in 1998. A year later, he won the Currie Cup with the Golden Lions.

Blessed with speed and great anticipation, sevens rugby was also a natural fit for Williams, who played in 22 tournaments for the Springbok sevens team, including the Rugby World Cup Sevens tournaments in 1993 and 2001. He also captained the Blitzboks at the Commonwealth Games in 1998.

After his playing days, Williams turned to coaching, where he was involved at various levels of the game, including the Blitzboks, the Cats (Super Rugby), the national teams of Uganda and Tunisia, the Pumas (Currie Cup) and, more recently, the University of the Western Cape in the Varsity Cup.

Williams is the fifth member of the Springbok squad from 1995 to pass away, after Kitch Christie (coach), Ruben Kruger (flank), Joost van der Westhuizen (scrumhalf) and James Small (wing), who died two months ago.

Williams had just launched his own beer brand called Chester’s Lager a week ago.

Kevin Luiters, the current Eastern Province Elephants scrumhalf, described Williams as a “great human being and a great coach”.

Luiters played two seasons under Williams as coach at Timișoara Saracens in Romania.

“This man had so much substance, it is difficult to comprehend. What a great human being, what a great friend, what a great father, what a great human, what a great coach,” Luiters said. 

“Chester Williams will forever be remembered and his praises will forever be sung. The love that he had for the game, the love that he had for the fans – his character spoke volumes. His praises are still sung high in Romania, where he is adored among the people and rugby fraternity."

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