Springbok flanker André Venter has announced his retirement from rugby.
The powerful forward issued a surprise statement in Bloemfontein on Tuesday revealing he will quit the game at the end of the Currie Cup season on 26 October (2002).
Venter, once considered the fittest man in South African rugby, is the third most capped Springbok of all time.
He played in 66 Tests between 1996 and 2001 and has made more than 100 appearances for his Free State province.
"André 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. André 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."
Venter was left in the international wilderness this year by injuries suffered at the beginning of the campaign.
But he has been in excellent form for Free State in the latter stages of the domestic season, helping propel them into the semi-finals of the Currie Cup.
And his efforts were rewarded with a international training squad place ahead of next month's European tour.
Venter, now 31, made his international debut against the All Blacks in 1996, when he replaced Francois Pienaar for the second Test in Durban.
He became only the third Springbok to be sent off in a Test when he was shown the red card for stamping on New Zealand skipper Sean Fitzpatrick in 1997.
"To have a player of Andre's calibre retire is a great loss to South African rugby," said Springbok coach Rudolf Straeuli. "It is said in sporting circles that great players leave the game a year too early rather than a year too late."