Shock over death of Bok legend James Small

Fighting spirit helped win ’95 World Cup, says ex-teammate Stransky

Former teammates expressed their shock after hearing of the death of James Small, Springbok rugby’s most celebrated rebel.
Former teammates expressed their shock after hearing of the death of James Small, Springbok rugby’s most celebrated rebel.
Image: BusinessDay 2009

Former teammates expressed their shock after hearing of the death of James Small, Springbok rugby’s most celebrated rebel.

Small, 50, died of a heart attack on Wednesday.

Former Springbok flyhalf Joel Stransky described Small as “the fiercest competitor” and having a huge heart.

Small played 47 Tests for the Springboks‚ scoring 20 tries to surpass Danie Gerber’s Bok tryscoring record before the new record was later eclipsed by Joost van der Westhuizen.

Stransky and Small were Bok teammates between 1993 and 1996 and were both instrumental figures in SA’s triumphant 1995 World Cup final win on home soil over the All Blacks.

Stransky famously dropkicked the winning points in extra time‚ but it was Small’s determined defence on opposite number Jonah Lomu that played a large part in keeping the All Blacks try-less.

“James was the fiercest competitor I played with‚” a shocked Stransky said.

“He wore his heart on his sleeve and was emotional‚ but for him it was always about absolute commitment.

James Small, left, hugs Springbok captain Francois Pienaar after SA won the rugby World Cup final against New Zealand in 1995
James Small, left, hugs Springbok captain Francois Pienaar after SA won the rugby World Cup final against New Zealand in 1995
Image: Sunday Times

“For James‚ winning was a massive part of who he was‚ but winning was a consequence of doing things well‚ which he did with his full heart and soul.”

The pair were regular roommates on Bok tours‚ and Small’s famous partying lifestyle gave Stransky a firsthand glimpse into another world.

“When you tour with someone you get to understand their personalities better and I think I understood him a little more than most.

“He was a complex guy but he had a huge heart and that showed in the way he dealt with children‚ with supporters‚ the game and life as well.”

Small is the third Springbok from the ’95 team to have died following flank Ruben Kruger and scrumhalf Van der Westhuizen‚ while All Black legend Lomu has also died.

“James’ fighting spirit and competitive nature were never more in evidence than in the ’95 final‚” Stransky said.

“There was a real underlying determination that Jonah was not going to score against us‚ how we would defend and how we would stop the big man in his tracks and it was driven by James.

“When you think back to that final the guys you would absolutely think were invincible – James‚ Joost‚ Ruben and Jonah – have all left us.”

Small played Tests against New Zealand‚ Australia‚ Western Samoa‚ Fiji‚ France‚ Italy‚ Romania‚ England‚ Scotland‚ Argentina and the British & Irish Lions.

He also played for the Golden Lions (then Transvaal)‚ Sharks (then Natal) and Western Province‚ appearing in Currie Cup finals for all three sides and lifting the coveted golden cup in the colours of the Sharks and WP.

Small often courted controversy due to his outspoken nature.

His altercation with a wave skier in perhaps the appropriately named Barney’s Tavern in Port Elizabeth brought unwanted attention in 1994.

A year earlier, he was the first Springbok to be sent off when English referee Ed Morrison (who two years later also refereed the World Cup final against New Zealand) banished Small from the field in a Test against Australia.

 

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