The South African rugby community has reacted with shock and disbelief to the death of former Springbok wing Chester Williams on Friday afternoon.
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 passed away from a heart attack in Cape Town on Friday afternoon, aged 49.
“The news of Chester’s passing is devastating and hard to believe,” said SA Rugby President, Mark Alexander.
“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 Golden Lions during his provincial career, which stretched from 1991 to 2000. He also had two seasons of 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 Rugby Championship (then Tri-Nations) in 1998, and he won the Currie Cup with the 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 (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 passed away two months ago.
Williams is survived by his wife, Maria, and three children, Ryan and twins, Matthew and Chloe