RUGBY UNION: South Africa lose winger Williams

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The Independent Online


Ten days before its kick-off, the World Cup yesterday suffered a symbolic setback of considerable importance when Chester Williams, the outstanding South African wing, withdrew from the tournament with an injured hamstring.

Williams is a 24-year-old Cape Coloured player who was one reason Francois Pienaar, the Springboks' captain, could say: "For the first time in the history of rugby, everybody wants South Africa to do well." Now, though, the host country's squad of 26 does not include any non-whites.

Williams pulled up in training yesterday after aggravating a problem that first occurred when South Africa were beating Western Samoa in Johannesburg last month. He has been replaced by Pieter Hendriks, 25, who was on the tour of England in 1992 and played against Scotland and Wales last autumn while James Small was suspended. He lost his place once Small was reinstated.

Quite apart from the symbolism, Williams's loss will also be keenly felt from a purely practical point of view. Since his introduction to international rugby in 1993 he has developed into an opportunist try-scorer, most recently getting two against the Samoans, and a consummate footballer in attack and defence.

"Of course I'm upset," Williams said, "but I'm not 100 per cent fit and I decided it is better for the whole of South Africa that I should not play. I made the decision myself after training. "

At the same training session, Gavin Johnson and Os du Randt came through fitness tests, but Pienaar pulled up with a hamstring strain. The injury is not thought to be serious, but in view of Williams' fate, Pienaar will be monitored closely.