JOHANNESBURG – Former Springbok Pedrie Wannenburg, who died after a multi-vehicle crash in Texas this weekend, was a "gentle giant", a family friend told AFP on Saturday when confirming the tragedy.
Wannenburg, capped 20 times by South Africa as a loose forward, reportedly died in Austin after a vehicle fleeing police crashed into the back of one driven by the 41-year-old South African.
An Austin police spokesman said a 16-year-old suspect, who had ignored a call to pull over, fled and struck the back of the vehicle driven by Wannenburg at an intersection.
"Hard as nails on the field and soft as jelly off it. A gentle giant," said the Pretoria-based friend who requested anonymity. "Words fail me. I am battling to accept that Pedrie is no longer among us.
"He was a lekker oke (good guy) who loved his family, his friends and rugby. He did not deserve to die so young and in such terrible circumstances.
We are devastated at the passing of Vodacom Bulls legend Pedrie Wannenburg.
Our heartfelt condolences go out to the Wannenburg family pic.twitter.com/ePecg3nSYU
Official Blue Bulls (@BlueBullsRugby) April 23, 2022
Ulster Rugby is deeply saddened to learn of the sudden passing of former flanker, Pedrie Wannenburg following a car crash in Texas.
The Springbok played a major role in Ulsters Heineken Cup and Pro12 campaigns, making 54 appearances for the Ulster men between 2010 and 2012. pic.twitter.com/dZyw0pC1dP
Ulster Rugby (@UlsterRugby) April 23, 2022
Wannenburg and his son, Francois, were flown to hospital where the former Springbok succumbed to his injuries. His son is recovering while his wife and daughter, Isabelle, escaped serious injury.
"If there is a silver lining on this dark occasion it is that the rest of the family escaped death," said the friend, who knew Wannenburg from his high school days.
Eugene Eloff, a former coach of the Johannesburg-based Lions franchise, said on Facebook: "I am shattered. I have no words. Just heard that my friend Pedrie Wannenburg passed away in a car accident.
"Devastating news. RIP wonderful man. You will be missed so much. My heart goes out to Evette (his wife) and the kids. Keeping you in my heart and prayers."
Former Ulster team-mate Dan Tuohy told the BBC that "Pedrie was ever-so talented and when he turned it on, wow, he could really play. He just read the game really well".
The 1.96-metre forward joined the Pretoria-based Bulls franchise in 2001 and later lined up for Ulster, Castres, Oyonnax, Denver Stampede and Austin Elite.
Born in the northeastern city of Mbombela (formerly Nelspruit), he made 99 consecutive appearances for the Bulls and played for the Springboks between 2002 and 2007.
He was considered unluckly not to have made the 2007 Springboks Rugby World Cup squad that went on to beat England in the final in Paris.
He moved to the United States six years ago and was working in the refrigeration industry and coaching the West Houston Lions.