Rugby fans reel with sorrow as three top players die in February 2017: - Rugby teams and their fans are bitter rivals on the field or in the stadiums but the month of February has united players and fans in sorrow as three top players have passed away in a single month.

New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa are mourning the players and heroes of the game as each country has lost a well loved and respected player. South Africa took a double blow as one of them was born in South Africa even though he died in far away Australia.

Dan Vickerman

Rugby Union Australia described #Dan Vickerman, the former player at 'lock' position, as "an enforcer on the field and a much-loved character off the field." Dan was born in South Africa in CapeTown in 1979. When he was just 17 years old he spent a year in England where he played for the Cheltenham Colts. After playing at Under 21 level for South Africa in 1999, he moved to Australia in 2000 and played in the 2000 SANZAR-UAR Under-21 tournament. His rugby career in Australia was a success and he played for the Brumbies in the Super 12 season of 2001and in 2002 was selected to play for the Australian A team. He debuted in his first Australian test game against France in Sydney. According to ESPN he "became a regular" player for the Wallabies in 2003 and the Waratahs signed him up for the 2004 season. By 2007 he had played his 50th test match but was bothered by injury and only managed to play three games in the 2008 World Cup.

After leaving for England to study at Cambridge in 2008, he ended up as captain for the Cambridge rugby team when they beat bitter rivals Oxford in 2009. According to Dan Vickerman's Waratah profile, he returned to Australia and played for the Wallabies team "which won the 2011 Tri Nations Series and claimed third place at the 2011 Rugby World Cup."

Dan Vickerman passed away aged just 37 on 18 February 2017, leaving his wife and two sons bereft.

Sione Lauaki

Sione, the Tongan-born New Zealand 'All-Black' rugby player died on 12 February 2017, aged 35. The NZ Herald reported in 2012 that the young sportsman was suffering from cardiac and renal problems. His death five years later was attributed to this condition. During his time as a loose forward with the All Blacks, Sione was capped 17 times and scored three tries.

He also played for the Chiefs in Super Rugby and racked up 70 caps for the team. He scored 14 tries during that stage of his career.

Joost van der Westhuizen

South Africa's well loved Joost van der Westhuizen died on 6 February 2017, and News 24 cited You Magazine about his last heartbreaking day. Joost, who was suffering from motor neuron disease decided to take himself off his ventilator. You Magazine reported that his brother Pieter said 'it had been his Joost's decision to take himself off a ventilator that Monday morning.' and "He told me, 'I'm tired now, I want to go home (to heaven)'"

Joost was 45 years old when he died. His rugby career which started in 1992 when he played for the Junior Springboks took him to high places and he captained the South African Rugby team on ten occasions and was a key player in the match that saw South Africa win the Tri-Nations for the very first time in 1998. He usually played the position of scrum half. Back home he played provincial rugby for the Blue Bulls and from 1996 until 2003 when he retired he played for the Northern Transvaal in the South African Super 12.

Joost, who was inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame was diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease in 2011. Ian Malin of the Guardian wrote, "he eventually became confined to a wheelchair and experienced speech problems, yet still raised awareness of the disease through his charity, the J9 Foundation."

The Tri-Nations of Rugby deaths has the fans of the game reeling with sorrow. New Zealand, South Africa nd Australia are not the only countries to feel the pain - fans across the world have taken to social media to mourn their passing.

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