Springbok and Free State Cheetahs flank Andre Venter has announced that he is to retire from the game at the end of the 2002 season. Venter has played 66 Tests for South Africa and is the third most capped Springbok of all time. He has made over 100 appearances for the Cheetahs.

Venter, 31, met with the management of the Free State Cheetahs company on Monday to inform coach Peet Kleynhans and the Cheetahs management team of

his decision to retire at the end of the 2002 Currie Cup.

"Andre has decided to retire from the game in order to give more attention to his family as well as to further expand his business," said Free State president Harold Verster.

"Although it has come as a shock to our management, we fully understand and appreciate the reasons for his decision. Andre is widely acknowledged as one of South African rugby's greats. He is a strong, silent character who not

only impresses with his play but is able to leave an impression as a determined and disciplined person," Verster said.

SA Rugby (Pty) Ltd Managing Director, Rian Oberholzer, paid tribute to Venter saying he had been a long-standing and loyal servant to the game in South Africa.

"Andre's contribution to the game at national, regional and provincial level over the past seven years has been remarkable. Whether he was playing for the Springboks, the Cats or the Cheetahs he would always give 100 percent commitment. He played with guts, determination and pride and never stood back for any opponent. It was these qualities that earned him the SA Rugby Player of the Year Award in 1999. Whilst we would like to have seen him continue for a few more seasons, we fully respect his decision and the reasons for it. SA Rugby and Sarfu thanks Andre for his dedication to the game and wish him well in the future," Oberholzer said.

In his reaction, Springbok coach Rudolf Straeuli said: "To have a player of Andre's calibre retire is a great loss to South African rugby. I have been in contact with him during the course of the year and he has kept me informed about his thoughts all along. I am sure I am not the only one in South African rugby who believes he still has a contribution to make on the field, but I also know how he prides himself in his value system. He has made a decision that he believes will be in his and his family's best interests and one can only respect that. It is said in sporting circles that great players leave the game a year too early rather than a year too late.

The Springbok management wishes him all the success in the future," Straeuli said.

Harold Verster added: "Andre was full of praise for his coaches and management and expressed appreciation towards Free State rugby. He also

expressed appreciation to Sarfu and SA Rugby (Pty) Ltd for the opportunities that he had been given to represent his country. He also commended Sarfu for the manner in which they dealt with him as a player.

"Andre has indicated that he will play he last few games for the Cheetahs with the same enthusiasm as before. He remains hopeful that the Cheetahs will succeed in winning the Currie Cup this year. He will always be honoured as one of the greatest and friendliest characters to have played for the Free State. The Free State Rugby Union and the Free State Cheetahs Company thank him for his long-standing service to, and involvement in, Free State rugby and wish him every success with his business career and family

life," Verster said.