Johannesburg - Chester Williams, the Springbok icon who died last weekend, was hailed as a "pioneer" Saturday at his funeral service by Rugby World Cup-winning captain Francois Pienaar.

Pienaar led the 1995 South African team that defeated New Zealand 15-12 in Johannesburg to lift the trophy three years after readmission to world rugby from apartheid-induced isolation.

Winger Williams was the only black player in the side and has been credited by many with breaking barriers in a team reserved for whites for many decades.

The 31-man Springbok squad currently preparing in Japan for the 2019 World Cup has 11 black players, including captain Siya Kolisi.

"He was a pioneer and a lot of black kids would look up to Chester as a trailblazer, a person that used all his skills to the utmost and made us so proud," said Pienaar.

The service was held at Newlands stadium in Cape Town, the home of Western Province, the team Williams represented for much of his senior career.

First capped against Argentina in 1993, Williams made 27 appearances for the Springboks, scoring 14 tries.

An injury initially ruled him out of the 1995 World Cup, but winger Pieter Hendriks was suspended and Williams was called up and scored four tries in a quarter-final against Samoa.

He was also part of the side that edged France in the semi-finals before a Joel Stransky drop goal in extra-time won a final watched by then-state president Nelson Mandela.

"We travelled a long journey together and I was quite close to him and played with him at Western Province and for South Africa," said Stransky at the service.

"We came from very different backgrounds, different upbringings, but we had similar views on life and it was a privilege knowing him, and to say goodbye to him it's just so sad."

Williams, 49, died of a heart attack last Friday after returning home from a gym session.