Rugby Chester Williams, Rugby Champion Who Signaled Apartheid’s Defeat, Dies at 49

Rugby Chester Williams, Rugby Champion Who Signaled Apartheid’s Defeat, Dies at 49

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South African Rugby, the sport’s governing body in that country, said the cause was a heart attack.

Williams, who was classified as colored in South Africa’s system of racial divisions, was an important presence in the 1995 tournament because his team, the Springboks, had historically been white, playing the sport most cherished by the Afrikaners, the dominant political group under apartheid.

More significantly, Nelson Mandela, who had taken office as South Africa’s first democratically elected president a year earlier, had embraced the Springboks — long a symbol of repression to most nonwhites — signaling that there was a place for white South Africans in the new order.

Mandela attended the final match wearing a Springbok jersey with the No. 6, the number worn by the team’s captain, Francois Pienaar.

Photographs of Mandela presenting the trophy to Pienaar after a 15-12 extra-time victory over the favored New Zealand, and of Williams smiling among his white teammates, flew around the world as images of a rehabilitated nation. The moment inspired the Clint Eastwood film “Invictus” (2009), on which Williams worked as an adviser.

Williams, a powerful winger, was initially kept out of the tournament because of injury, leaving South Africa with an all-white squad. But the suspension of another wing, Pieter Hendricks, after an epic brawl during a game against Canada, paved the way for a healed Williams to return.

Williams rose to the occasion. In the quarterfinal against Samoa, he became the first South African to score four tries (rugby’s touchdown) in an international match. He also played a key defensive role in the team’s winning exhaustingly tight contests against France and New Zealand.

In most any other society, Williams would have been recognized as a member of

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