Joel Stransky hails James Small as 'the fiercest competitor'

The 1995 Rugby World Cup winning teammates from left to right: Joel Stransky, James Small, Balie Swart, Andre Joubert, Chris Rossouw and Hannes Strydom.
The 1995 Rugby World Cup winning teammates from left to right: Joel Stransky, James Small, Balie Swart, Andre Joubert, Chris Rossouw and Hannes Strydom.
Image: Gallo Images

Former Springbok flyhalf Joel Stransky described teammate James Small as ‘”the fiercest competitor” and of “having a huge heart‚” as he paid tribute to his late friend.

Small‚ 50‚ died on Wednesday morning as a result of a heart attack after being hospitalised on Tuesday evening.

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

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

Stransky famously drop-kicked 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 in the match.

“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.

“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 first-hand glimpse into another world.

“I shared rooms with him and I always laughed about the fact that we had exactly the opposite sleeping habits‚” Stransky said.

“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 for life as well.”

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

“James’ fighting spirit and competitive nature was 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. They were larger and stronger than life.

"It’s just so hard to believe.”

In total‚ Small donned the Green and Gold 60 times‚ scoring 27 tries. He played Tests against New Zealand‚ Australia‚ Western Samoa‚ Fiji‚ France‚ Italy‚ Romania‚ England‚ Scotland‚ Argentina and the British & Irish Lions.

In his provincial career‚ Small 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 Western Province‚ but never with the Golden Lions.

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