Former SA rugby player dies violent death in France

Barend Britz, wearing No 5, during his rugby playing days. Photo: Facebook

Cape Town – He was known as a gentle giant, but the rugby world is mourning the violent death of former provincial lock Barend Britz.

The 63-year-old Britz died after an attack at his bar in Perpignan, France, on Thursday night, a French website reported.

According to the L’independant, witnesses said a man, who had been asked to leave the bar in the afternoon, burst into the bar which Britz owned at around 9pm before wreaking havoc.

Britz had reportedly tried to calm down proceedings in the famous Bar and Britz night spot, but was struck several times on the head with a knuckle-duster. He was rushed to hospital but succumbed to his injuries.

The man reportedly threw several chairs and crushed windows before striking Britz, who was accompanied by two friends who did not partake in the violence.

A suspect, believed to be in his thirties, was later arrested by police and placed in custody.

Britz, who would have turned 64 on December 14, played provincial rugby for the then Transvaal (Golden Lions) and Northern Transvaal (Blue Bulls) in the 1980s before moving to France, where he played many years for Perpignan. He retired from rugby in 1996.

Former team-mates, friends and customers of Britz have spoken today with shock of his horrific murder in southern France, hailing a gentle giant who was popular with everyone.

A former team-mate and friend of Britz, who saw him daily because their businesses were across the road from each other, told L’Equipe today: “It’s sad knowing that he was a good man who never had a gesture of aggression.”

Britz’s former coach, Paul Foussat, said that he met Britz when the South African was 35 and they became friends for life. 

“He always called me ‘coach Paul’, but I did not teach him anything! He knew everything,” said Foussat.

Foussat spoke of how Britz had completely integrated into the Catalan culture and how the public “adored him”.

Britz’s sister-in-law, Elise Britz, told Netwerk24 from her Piet Retief, Mpumalanga, home: “It’s terrible. We think we live in such a scary country and that something like that wouldn’t happen there.”

Former Irish rugby star and South African radio presenter John Robbie tweeted: “Sad news. Just read of the death of Wynand Mans. Together we reffed a good number of Currie Cup games!! He was a gent. 

“Then learnt of the violent death in France of my old teammate Barend Britz. He was a gentle giant. It seems senseless violence is not confined to SA. RIP.”

Mans, who was suffering from motor neuron disease, passed away on Thursday.