Rugby legend Jannie du Plessis’ one-year-old son drowned in a pool as the South African World Cup winner celebrated his 39th birthday yesterday.
The tragedy happened just two days after the child was christened on Sunday, a friend of the family revealed.
Du Plessis and his wife Ronel have two other children, daughters Rosalie and Hele, and are believed to live on his childhood farm outside Bethlehem in northern South Africa after moving back there from Johannesburg during the pandemic.
It is not yet clear where the tragedy unfolded and the circumstances of the drowning have not yet been revealed.
Former Springbok player Albert ‘Toks’ van der Linde tweeted a picture of du Plessis with his wife Ronel and late son and said: ‘Please pray for Jannie du Plessis and his family. His son of one year old drowned last night, my heart is broken broken broken. So so sad.’
Du Plessis played 70 Test matches for the Springboks until 2015, and was part of South Africa’s World Cup winning side in 2007.
Former player Toks van der Linde announced the news on Twitter with a picture of Jannie du Plessis with his wife Ronel and late son
Jannie du Plessis was capped 70 times for South Africa and was part of the 2007 World Cup winning squad (pictured left with the trophy)
Former Springbok Rudolf Straeuli told Sport24: ‘We, as a Lions family, aren’t doing well. I can confirm that this tragedy took place. We are all devastated.’
He later added: ‘As I’m sure everyone can understand, Jannie and his family now need to be left alone to process this tragedy.
‘We offer our full support to him and kindly request everyone to keep them in their thoughts and prayers.’
Du Plessis’ former club the Sharks also sent their ‘deepest condolences to Jannie, Ronel and the entire du Plessis family on the tragic loss of his young son.’
A spokesperson for the club said: ‘Our thoughts and prayers are with you during this difficult time.’
Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira, who played with Du Plessis in the victorious 2007 Rugby World Cup squad, quoted a tweet from the Sharks franchise, expressing his grief over the incident.
He wrote: ‘My heart is broken for the Du Plessis family…’
Meanwhile SA Rugby Legends said: ‘Our heartfelt thoughts, prayers and condolences go to Jannie and Ronel du Plessis on the tragic loss of their beloved son. We are heartbroken for you.’
MyPlayers, the organisation for all professional rugby players in South Africa tweeted: ‘There are no words to describe the intolerable pain a parent suffers when they lose a child. Jannie and Ronel, our hearts and prayers are with you.’
Jannie and Ronel du Plessis have have two other children, daughters Rosalie (right) and Hele (left)
Du Plessis’ family are believed to live on his childhood farm outside Bethlehem (pictured) in northern South Africa after moving back there from Johannesburg during the pandemic
The tighthead prop, a qualified doctor, played in the 2007 World Cup campaign alongside younger brother Bismarck. Du Plessis moved to moved to Gauteng to join the Lions last year following a five-year stint with French club Montpellier.
The Springboks star grew up on a farm, called Stirling, outside Bethlehem and has described life his ‘isolated’ but ‘care-free’.
‘I remember the cold winters and the moderate summers. Farm life has its own charm,’ he told Food For Mzansi. The family have cattle and sheep and grow sugar beans and maize.
His father, Francois, played for the local club and encouraged the boys to get involved with the sport. ‘If we behaved, we could go attend his [team] practice sessions on a Tuesday and Thursday night.’
Du Plessis and his young family returned to the Bethlehem farm during the pandemic and said they ‘played barefoot with the children on the farm, rode horses, and kicked balls.’
The prop has said he ‘one day’ hopes to be ‘proud of my cattle and farming enterprise’. ‘Deep in my heart I have always been a farm boy. I cannot wait to start farming full-time after my rugby career.’
Du Plessis is a qualified doctor and has said in the past that studying always came before rugby for his family. He studied medicine at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, despite being tempted away by a contract with the Pumas Rugby Union in 2003.
Du Plessis put his medical skills to use in 2009, when Brumbies player Shawn McKay was hit by a car while out in Durban.
The Springboks player stabilised McKay and helped him to breathe until paramedics arrived, though he died from his injuries several days later.
Du Plessis (pictured playing against England in November 2008) was part of South Africa’s 2007 Rugby World Cup winning squad alongside younger brother Bismarck