Posted on Thursday, 14 Jun 2016
Free State Cheetahs (Pty) Ltd has secured the services of seven talented centres for 2017.
Francois Venter, Ali Mgijima, William Small-Smith, Michael van der Spuy, Nico Lee, Lihleli Xoli and Tertius Kruger are all contracted with the Toyota Cheetahs and Toyota Free State Cheetahs for 2017.
Date of Birth: 19.04.1991
Weight: 94 kg
Height: 1.85 m
Captain Francois Venter embarked upon his third campaign with the Cheetahs in 2016 after transferring from the Bulls following the 2013 Super Rugby season. The hard-running centre was a member of the South African U20 team that competed in the 2010 and 2011 Junior World Championships.
He made his debut for the Bloemfontein-based team against the Lions on 15 February 2014 in Bloemfontein and in 2015 he has played in all 16 Super Rugby matches, captaining the Toyota Cheetahs against the Highlanders in Bloemfontein on 16 May 2015.
Compact in execution with a very low error rate and an uncanny ability to take the right option, Venter’s speed of the mark, running angles and uncompromising defence makes him one of the toughest opponents in the competition.
In 2015 Venter was selected for the Northern Barbarians team. His hard work paid off and he was rewarded by being chosen to lead the Toyota Cheetahs onto the field in 2016. He is also currently the vice-captain of the South African side.
Date of Birth: 11.02.1995
Weight: 97 kg
Height: 1.78 m
Ali Mgijima was matrikulant from HTS Louis Botha in Bloemfontein. He represented the Free State at the u.18 Coca-Cravenweek in 2013 and joined Free State Rugby representing the Free State Cheetahs in 2014 in the u.19 competition and in 2015 in the u.21 competition. Mgijima played for CUT in 2015 and 2016 in the Vasity Cup and started playing for the Toyota Free State XV in the Currie Cup Qualifying round in 2016.
Date of Birth: 31. 03. 1992
Weight: 92 kg
Height: 1.84 m
Success seems to follow William Small-Smith wherever he goes with the talented midfielder receiving gold medals as part of the Springboks Sevens team, the Junior Springboks and the Blue Bulls' U21 team.
Fast and with a proven ability to finish, Small-Smith’s real strength lies in his on-field organisational and leadership traits. A leader of men with a natural feel for the game, the developing centre will become even more influential in years to come.
He made his Super Rugby debut against the Highlanders in April last year and showed why he was so highly rated. Deft touches and solid defence allowed players around him to blossom and more of the same can be expected of this gifted midfielder. In 2016 Small-Smith played in four matches for the Toyota Cheetahs before being side-lined with a toe injury.
Michael van der Spuy
Date of Birth: 20.02.1991
Weight: 89 kg
Height: 1.81 m
Having made his Currie Cup debut at the age of 20 back in 2011, Michael Van der Spuy had to wait another year to add to his tally and did not disappoint.
His first class debut came against Pumas where he found the try line within seven minutes while his Currie Cup debut came a few months later during the 2011 Premier Division season, coming on as a substitute in their match against the Golden Lions in Johannesburg.
Van der Spuy made four Super Rugby appearances for the Stormers during 2014 before joining the Cheetahs and Griquas for the 2015 season. He played in nine matches for the Griquas and as centre partner for Francois Venter in 13 Super matches for the Toyota Cheetahs bringing his Super Rugby total to 17.
Van der Spuy offers great versatility in the backline.
Date of Birth: 13.03.1994
Weight: 89 kg
Height: 1.80 m
Lee played schoolboy rugby for Afrikaanse Hoër Seunskool in Pretoria, but missed out on selection for the Blue Bulls' squad for the Craven Week competition in 2012.
In 2013, Lee moved to Bloemfontein where he represented the Free State U19 side in the 2013 Under-21 Provincial Championship competition, making eleven starts during the season, scoring four tries and a penalty during the campaign.
He was included in the Free State XV squad for the 2014 Vodacom Cup competition. He made his first class debut in their round one match against SWD Eagles and marked the occasion by scoring a 55th minute try in a 52–47 victory. He remained a regular in a side for the duration of the competition, starting in all eight of their matches. He scored a total of six tries during the season, making him the Free State XV's joint top try scorer (along with Zingisa April).
In July 2014, Lee signed a contract with the Free State Cheetahs until the end of 2017.
Date of Birth: 28.02.1993
Weight: 92 kg
Height: 1.85 m
Lihleli Xoli attended Kingswood College and represented Eastern Province at the u.13 Coca-Cola Cravenweek and u.16 Grant Khomo. Xoli played for the Eastern Province Kings in the Absa u.19 competition before moving to Cape Town to represent Western Province in the u.21 competition. He played for WP in the Vodacom Cup competition in 2014 and 2015 and was part of the UCT team from 2013 until 2016.
Date of Birth: 09.08.1993
Weight: 92 kg
Height: 1.79 m
Kruger was involved in provincial rugby since primary school level, representing the SWD Eagles U13 (2006), U16 (2009) and U18 (2011). He moved to Bloemfontein playing for the Free State U19 (2012) and U21 (2013-2014).
In 2014 and 2015 he played for the UFS Shimlas in the Varsity Cup. Kruger started seven of the UFS Shimlas' matches during the 2015 competition, helping them qualify for their first final. He also started in the final against the NWU Pukke as Shimlas ran out to win the Varsity Cup title.
He was included in the Toyota Free State Cheetahs senior squad for the first time for the 2015 Currie Cup Premier Division and he eventually made his first class debut against the Griquas. He and his elder brother, number 8 De Wet Kruger, both featured in a match together when De Wet made his debut against the Golden Lions in 2015 in Bloemfontein.
*Director of Rugby, Rory Duncan has confirmed that Ryno Benjamin is a definite option for next season and that the Free State Cheetahs are still in negotiations with him and his agent.