Bad boys of Springboks rugby down the years

Springboks James Small, Joost van der Westhuizen and Elton Jantjies. Images: Backpage Pix, Gallo, Instagram.

LIST: Springbok bad boys down the years — who and where are they?

DRUGS, BOOZE AND AFFAIRS: Take a look at the Springbok players whose careers were impacted by their naughty streak.

Bad boys of Springboks rugby down the years

Springboks James Small, Joost van der Westhuizen and Elton Jantjies. Images: Backpage Pix, Gallo, Instagram.

Many Springboks stars’ careers have gone on a downward spiral due to their naughty streak and bad boy tendencies.

South Africa has produced 933 Test rugby internationals, dating back to 1891, no naturally there’s been a string of so-called ‘bad boys’ among them.

And while it virtually impossible to know all of them and what the acts that qualify them as bad boys because the Springboks’ history goes back by centuries; these are some of the most recognisable Bok baddies from recent history.

Below we identify the most recognisable Springboks who were as bad off the field as they were good on it.


Elton Jantjies

Throughout his playing career, Jantjies had always been a polarising figure, but that didn’t stop him from having a long 10-year international career during which he accumulated 46 Tests between the ages of 22 and 32.

But as his days as an active Springbok jersey dwindled down, Jantjies’ off-field actions became more erratic and irresponsible. So much so, that he was arrested at OR Tambo airport for assaulting an air hostess during a flight in May 2022.

Later that same year, he prematurely lost his place in the squad for having an extra-mural affair with the the Springboks’ dietician. That led to a breakdown in his marriage with wife Iva Ristic, who fled the country with the couple’s three sons to Turkey. It was at this point, that he also lost his lucrative contract with a Japanese rugby club, who no longer wanted to be associated with him.

Jantjies’ spiral didn’t end there. He started another extra-marital affair, despite refusing to sign the divorce papers from his wife. This affair also ended in tears and controversy, as the woman accused Jantjies of domestic violence. The final nail Jantjies’ career, came at the start of this year when he was banned from all forms of rugby after he was found guilty of using the banned substances.

The 33-year-old is currently in South Africa and working as a kicking and attack coach with various schools through the Rugga School coaching academy.

Elton Jantjies might not be the original Springbok bad boy, but he will be remembered as one of the most infamous.

Elton Jantjies
Springbok flyhalf Elton Jantjies has been handed what is effectively a career-ending ban after testing positive for a banned substance.
Photo: BackpagePix.

James Small (1969-2019)

James Terrence Smal died of cardiac arrest at The Harem strip club in Bedfordview in Johannesburg and it that doesn’t tell you that he was the ultimate Springbok bad boy, nothing will.

Small was part of the first Springbok when the Boks took on the All Blacks at Ellis Park in 1992 and he was part of that magical team that beat the odds to win the 1995 World Cup.

Lest we forget, Small Small also won the Currie Cup with three different provinces: Transvaal, Western Province and Natal; and played Super Rugby for the Stormers in 1996.

He was one of those athletes that straddled the transitional line between between rugby amateur and professional eras.

Small was a foul-mouthed player who never backed down from a fight, which made it difficult to distinguish if he was driven by passion or thuggery. And for his efforts, he will down down in the annals of history as the first Springbok since readmission to get red-carded in a Test match for dissent against Australia in 1993.

But his was a life of which rugby was just a chapter. Away from the game he so loved, Small lived largely and proudly. From modelling, businesses (legal and otherwise), alcohol and drug abuse, and sex, this man was the epitome of a Springbok bad boy.

One thing about Small that sets him apart is that while he always had a chip on his shoulder and wore his heart on his sleeve, he never shied away from who he was, whether it was the talented rugby player or the man caught up in social ‘trends’ and traps of the world.

James Small Springboks Rugby World Cup 1995
South Africa unforgettably won the 1995 Rugby World Cup on home soil – now 28 years ago. Where are the Springbok heroes today? Photo: BackpagePix

Joost van der Westhuizen (1971-2017)

A young Van der Westhuizen made his Test debut for the Springboks against Argentina in 1993, and within two years he was a household name in the team.

He captained the Springboks 10 times and scored 38 tries in 89 Test matches. It was those stats and the unique way in which he reinvented the scrumhalf position, that sees the late Van der Westhuizen universally recognised as one of the game’s all time greats and most iconic figures.

But the chiselled faced scrumhalf wasn’t without fault, especially in his personal life. In 2001, the heartthrob divorced wife of six years, Marlene, and married television personality Amore Vittone shortly afterwards.

Van der Westhuizen and Vittone had two children, but their seemingly idyllic life crumbled around them in 2009 when a video of the Springbok in a compromising position with a blonde woman was leaked to the media.

In the video he wore only underwear while sniffing white powder, believed to be cocaine. After denying it for some time, Van der Westhuizen manned up and admitted he was the man in the sex video and apologised. But that could not salvage his second marriage and they separated.

A mere two years after that scandal, the Springbok was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2011. He valiantly fought the illness and did wonderful work to create awareness world wide, but six years after his diagnosis Springbok No 593 lost his battle and passed away on 6 February 2017.

Joost van der Westhuizen in rugby action, demonstrating his legendary skills and passion for the game. Image: Instagram via @haldepottingerceremonies, and @dorainevanrij
Joost van der Westhuizen in rugby action, demonstrating his legendary skills and passion for the game. Image: Instagram via @haldepottingerceremonies, and @dorainevanrij