Halfback rivals form close bond amid adversity

MARC HINTON
Last updated 05:00 09/12/2012

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All Blacks great Justin Marshall has nothing but admiration for Joost van der Westhuizen - a feeling that has only grown as he's seen up close his friend's struggles with motor neuron disease.

Marshall, van der Westhuizen and Australia's George Gregan were huge rivals over nearly a decade, forming a close bond. "He's suffering, and it's really difficult to see the way he is now," said Marshall, who visits South Africa when he can to help van der Westhuizen fund raise for his foundation.

"A degenerative disease like this is pretty awful. You get your head round that first, then do what you can to help out.

"You know he is going to die from it, and die sooner rather than later."

Marshall regards van der Westhuizen, who won the World Cup in 1995, as the greatest No 9 to come out of the republic.

"When he was on song he could flip a game and win it almost single-handedly. He was a magic player. One time I remember he made a break through the line, I was defending deeper, and I thought this was my chance to line him up and put him into a hospital ward. I launched myself, only for him to chip over my head, pirouette around me and score beside the posts." On Marshall's last visit in February he was struck by the poignancy of watching him auction off treasured memorabilia.

"To see him giving up the things that meant the most to him to support the fight against motor neuron disease, it was a pretty overwhelming thing." 

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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