Former Western Province and Stormers prop Morne van der Merwe is fighting for his life and has mere days to live.
Van der Merwe, who finished his career in Wellington where he was a member of the last Wellington Lions side to claim a national provincial championship in 2000, was diagnosed with a brain tumour two years ago and is believed to have just days to live.
Van der Merwe’s former captain and front row partner Norm Hewitt hailed the 39-year-old as one of the best props he played with.
"He was a really good man and he was a very, very good prop," Hewitt, who played nine Tests for the All Blacks, told the Dominion Post.
"I rate him as one of the top props that I played with in my career and I'm talking the top six or eight," he added.
Former hooker Hewitt, who lost Hurricanes team mate Jarrod Cunningham to motor neurone disease in 2007, was at a loss for words when he learned about Van der Merwe’s current condition.
"I'm blown away. When you told me, I just had to stop," Hewitt said.
"My wife and I were just doing some stuff with our kids and, far out.
"One of my mates, Jarrod Cunningham, he's gone and now Morne.
"You just think of your own mortality; it was only 10 or 11 years ago that Morne was with us."
Van der Merwe played for Eastern Province before he moved to Cape Town to join Western Province and the Stormers, whom he represented in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
He had originally travelled to Wellington as part of an elongated honeymoon with his wife Cindy and eventually went on to play two seasons for the Lions.
Hewitt recalled the 2000 NPC final win over Canterbury and how Van der Merwe had made a telling tackle on Fijian flyer Marika Vunibaka as one of his fondest on-field memories of the South African.
Hewitt remembered how he had to play the last 20 minutes with a broken arm after Van der Merwe was concussed and fellow prop Kevin Yates dislocated his shoulder.
Van der Merwe returned to the fray, but Hewitt believes the match could have been lost before he broke his arm had it not been for Van der Merwe.
Vunibaka looked certain to score just before the break as he sliced through Wellington’s defence but the 124kg Van der Merwe somehow managed to deny the speedy wing.
"I ran him down from behind, man," Van der Merwe quipped after the match.
"Good thing it was half-time then, because I needed a breather."
Hewitt said that was the kind of play he would remember Van der Merwe for.
"He was a top man, a great team man and did anything and everything you could want from a player.
"I couldn't have asked for anything more from Morne."