CAPE TOWN – Former Springbok legend Chester Williams has passed away at the age of 49. The former Springbok wing, Blitzboks captain, and coach died suddenly on Friday 6 September 2019, from a heart attack.
Mark Alexander, President of SA Rugby, reacted with shock and disbelief when the news surfaced on Friday afternoon.
“The news of Chester’s passing is devastating and hard to believe, as he was still young and seemingly in good health,” said Alexander.
The University of the Western Cape (UWC), where Chester was a Head Coach, tweeted: “It is with sadness that the University of the Western Cape confirms the passing, earlier today, of Springbok legend and UWC head coach, Chester Williams. Our thoughts and prayers are with loved ones.”
UWC media manager (and former Cape Times and Cape Argus editor) Gasant Abarder, said: “I’m reeling. I gave Chester a lift to the UWC Admin block yesterday. We were chatting on whatsapp just (this) morning. The guy was fine. 😭😭😭”
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 fellow wing partner, James Small, who also died from a heart attack less than a couple of months ago, at the age of 50.
Williams was a star of the Springboks’ Rugby World Cup-winning squad in 1995 and one of the best wings in South African rugby history.
He became one of less than 10 Springboks to score four tries in one test… when he scored those tries against Samoa in the 1995 RWC quarter-final.
According to ‘Bok Fact No. 42’ he also scored tries in six successive tests for South Africa between 1994 and 1995.
All in all, Chester played 27 Tests for the Boks between 1993 and 2000, scoring 14 tries in that time.
Alexander said: “Chester was a true pioneer in South African 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.
“As a member of the Springbok class of 1995, Chester was not only well-known in the rugby fraternity, but he was a much-loved South African whose influence stretched wider than just the rugby world.
“He was passionate about rugby and South Africa and as coach, at various levels, selflessly gave back to the game after he hung up his boots. He played with courage and was a beacon of light in his community and in the broader South African context.
“Chester Williams had so much more to give. Our thoughts and condolences are with his wife, Maria, his children, family and friends during this very sad time.”
Nicknamed the “Black Pearl”, Williams was born in Paarl on 8 August 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 South Africa until his last Test, against Wales in 2000, scoring 14 Test tries in the process. 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 had to withdraw due to injury shortly before the tournament started. He was later recalled and scored four tries in the quarter-final against Samoa.
Williams was named the SA Rugby Player of the Year in 1994. Apart from lifting the Webb Ellis Cup in 1995, Williams was also a member of the Springbok squad that won the Castle Lager Rugby Championship (then Tri-Nations) in 1998, and he won the Currie Cup with the Xerox Golden Lions in 1999.
Blessed with speed to burn 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, Cats (Vodacom Super Rugby), the national teams of Uganda and Tunisia, the Phakisa Pumas (Currie Cup), and more recently the University of the Western Cape in the FNB Varsity Cup.
Condolences Pour In for Chester Williams
President Ramaphosa expressed his sadness and said: “Chester Williams’s death at this tender age leaves all South Africans bereft of a rugby hero and national role model who still had a great deal to offer his sport and his country.
“We will miss the humility and joy of life with which Chester conducted himself during an illustrious career that inspired hundreds of thousands of South African children who had previously been excluded from rugby, to take up the game.
“We salute him for the extraordinary achievements he recorded in a life that has sadly ended prematurely.”
The DA’s Shadow Sports Minister, William Faber, said: “As the only black player in the 1995 Springbok squad, his role in breaking down barriers and forging the road to a non-racial and reconciled South Africa cannot be understated.
“His contributions to South Africa was not only limited to the rugby pitch, through his philanthropic work he also empowered disadvantaged children through education, health, mentorships and rugby development.
“We have indeed lost a giant. Rest In Peace, ‘Black Pearl’.”
Williams is survived by his wife, Maria, and three children, Ryan and twins, Matthew and Chloe. Funeral arrangements have not yet been made and will be communicated in due course.
I'm reeling. I gave Chester a lift to the UWC Admin block yesterday. We were chatting on whatsapp just morning. The guy was fine. 😭😭😭
— Gasant Abarder (@GasantAbarder) September 6, 2019