In Summary
  • Williams died of a suspected heart attack on Friday in Cape Town, where he lived and worked as a rugby coach at the University of the Western Cape.

JOHANNESBURG

As news of the death of South African World Cup winner Chester Williams at the age of 49 began to circulate, so the tributes rolled in for a pioneering player whose significance was felt both on and off the field.

"Chester's name will go down with the greats of South African rugby as a player and for what he stood for in our country's history," said South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus from the team's hotel in Japan.

Williams died of a suspected heart attack on Friday in Cape Town, where he lived and worked as a rugby coach at the University of the Western Cape.

Each tribute made mention of the winger's talent on the rugby field, made famous by the part he played in the Springboks' momentous victory in the 1995 Rugby World Cup, and all leant heavily on Williams' role off the field in breaking down the apartheid barrier within the sport.

"Chessie was an icon," Breyton Paulse, another black wing who followed Williams into the Bok side, told news channel eNCA.

"He paved the way for us, especially the guys coming from underprivileged areas," said Paulse who went on to win 64 caps.

"He was a father figure. He is the reason so many players of colour today can walk into the Springbok team, it is because of players like Chester Williams and the late, great Tinus Linee."

Linee, who played with Williams at Western Province and was capped nine times by the Boks, died in 2014 from motor neurone disease.

Williams' importance to the black people in South Africa as Nelson Mandela attempted to build his 'Rainbow Nation' cannot be underestimated.

"Chester Williams's death at this tender age leaves all South Africans bereft of a rugby hero and national role model," said current president Cyril Ramaphosa in a statement.

"(He) inspired hundreds of thousands of South African children who had previously been excluded from rugby, to take up the game."

When the World Cup came to South Africa in 1995, Williams was the poster boy for the tournament as the government of Mandela, elected a year earlier, tried to use the event to foster greater ties between the different races in the country.

Williams was the only black player in the squad, playing a sport that had long been associated with white rule.

The Springbok itself was seen as a symbol of apartheid by many black South Africans who had either ignored the game or made a point of supporting the opponents of the Boks.

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