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Where are they now: The last Cheetahs team to play in the PRO16

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

No one knew it at the time, but the February 29 loss for the Cheetahs three years ago at the Dragons was the match that marked the end of the Bloemfontein-based franchise’s participation in the PRO16. They had travelled north for a three-game tour of Ireland and Wales, losing at Leinster and Ulster before also going down 10-13 at Rodney Parade.

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That losing tour sequence left the Cheetahs sitting in fourth place in Conference A with six wins from their 13 matches. Then came the start of the pandemic shutdown of the world and by the time the cross-hemisphere action returned in 2021/22, the Cheetahs has been bumped from the tournament that was rebranded as the URC – with SA Rugby opting to instead enter the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers.

Unlike Southern Kings, who folded as a result of the pandemic, the Cheetahs have remained in business, adding participation in the European Challenge Cup in recent months to their Currie Cup schedule. However, their roster is now very different from what they had at the club pre-pandemic. Here, RugbyPass checks out where the Cheetahs team that played its final PRO16 match three years ago currently is:

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15. Clayton Blommetjies
The full-back had returned to the Cheetahs for the 2019/20 season after an unsuccessful spell at Scarlets and Leicester. He started all three tour games before the stoppage and played in numerous Currie Cup tournaments for the club after rugby resumed. Moved to the Stormers for 2022/23 where he has been a starter in 13 of his 15 appearances.

14. Rhyno Smith
Another who started all three tour games, he play for the Cheetahs in the post-pandemic restart before heading north to join Benetton where he is now in his second season in Italy. A regular at full-back, he has been a starter in 27 of his 28 games for the URC franchise.

13. William Small-Smith
Another player that the Cheetahs named to start in every tour match, he was still at the club when rugby got going again but his career has since prematurely ended. It was December 2020 when he suffered a head knock against the Sharks in Bloemfontein and he quit playing four months later on medical grounds at the age of 29.

12. Benhard Janse van Rensburg
Another three-game tour starter in the Cheetahs back line, the midfielder decided to play the 2021 season with Green Rockets Tokatsu in Japan before an offer arrived from London Irish where he has proven invaluable in his 48 appearances. Voted the Gallagher Premiership player of the month for January, he gave an insightful interview in recent weeks to RugbyPass about why the English league has been so good for him.

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11. Craig Barry
Having arrived back at the Cheetahs from Western Province and the Stormers, he stayed with the club for the pandemic restart. However, he didn’t play all that much and a January 2022 outing versus Romanian Baia Mare was his last appearance for them.

10. Tian Schoeman
The fifth and final member of the Rodney Parade backline to start all three tour games, he was still at the Cheetahs for the rugby restart but soon moved to Bath in England, a move that wasn’t a success as his time was limited due to a serious knee injury. Is now at Newcastle where there have been six starts in his 14 2022/23 appearances.

9. Tian Meyer
The scrum-half wasn’t meant to be a starter away to Dragons, but he was handed the No9 shirt after Ruan Pienaar was a late withdrawal. Remained at the Cheetahs for the restart but then played twice for the Sharks in last season’s URC before moving to Japan, initially playing for Osaka Red Hurricanes before switching to Urayasu D-Rocks.

1. Boan Venter
The loosehead started at Dragons after benching twice in Ireland. Was still at Cheetahs when rugby returned but has since made Scotland his home, joining Edinburgh during its 2020/21 campaign and so far making 38 appearances, 21 as a starter.

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2. Wilmar Arnoldi
Another who started back with the Bloemfontein club for the restart before moving elsewhere. There was an initial pitstop at the Stormers, but he made just a single URC appearance and is now playing in France with the Pro D2 Beziers.

3. Luan de Bruin
Featured in a few SA Super Rugby games following the restart but was soon snapped up by Leicester, whom he represented on 17 occasions, nine as a starter, in the 2020/21 season before making Edinburgh his home. So far there have been 18 appearances in his two seasons in Scotland, nine as their starting tighthead.

4. Sintu Manjezi
The Scottish theme continues with the lock who initially joined the Bulls for the rugby restart. ACL and eye injuries limited his on-pitch contribution to Jake White’s franchise and he moved to Glasgow for 2022/23, so far featuring in 10 URC matches – seven as a starter – under Franco Smith, his old Cheetahs coach.

5. Walt Steenkamp
One of only two forwards to start all three tour games for the Cheetahs, he too soon switched to the Bulls after the rugby restart and became a talisman in their run to the 2021/22 URC final. Featured seven more times for them this season before starting 2023 at Mitsubishi Dynaboars in Japan.

6. Gerhardus Olivier
The Cheetahs’ tour had a terrible consequence for the back-rower as he sustained a neck injury 15 minutes into the Dragons match and it was confirmed four months later that he was retiring with immediate effect at the age of 27.

7. Junior Sipato Pokomela
The second forward to start all three Cheetahs tour matches, he continued to play for the club when the sport restarted but has since switched to the Stormers where he was a replacement in their title win last June over the Bulls in Cape Town. Has made 15 more appearances for them this season, seven as a starter.

8. Aidon Davis
Remained at the Cheetahs for their restart Currie Cup/SA Super campaigns but signed for Exeter for the 2022/23 season. Scored a couple of tries versus Bath in his Premiership Rugby Cup debut but his appearances have been very limited.

Replacements:
16. Joseph Dweba
The substitute hooker signed for Bordeaux for the rugby restart and spent two seasons there before returning to South Africa to join the Stormers for 2022/23. Has been capped four times by the Springboks since exiting Cheetahs.

17. Charles Marias
Another player who stayed on with the Cheetahs for the rugby return but his contribution ended with the April 2021 announcement that he was to retire with immediate effect at the age of 32 due to a neck injury.

18. Carel-Jan Coetzee
The tighthead left the Cheetahs last year to hook up with Griffons in Currie Cup First Division.

19. JP du Preez
Sale quickly swooped for the giant lock and there were 30 appearances for the English club before he moved on to Glasgow for a 2022/23 campaign where he has started in four of his 15 games for the Scottish side.

20. Sias Koen
France was where the back-rower was to be found when rugby restarted and Beziers has been a home away from home for him as he has started in 45 of his 57 Pro D2 appearances.

21. Sibhale Maxwane
The Lions has signed him when rugby came back and he is still there, making six starts as a winger in this season’s URC/Challenge Cup campaigns.

22. Louis Fouche
Bench selection in Newport was the last time he played professionally as he retired that July to start a business in Port Elizabeth.

23. Chris Smit
Stayed on with the Cheetahs for the restart but switched to the Bulls in August 2022. Infamously knocked himself out in late September when ‘scoring’ a disallowed try in a defeat to Cheetahs where he had celebrated, punching the air before losing the ball when diving.

Other players:
Four others made appearances during the three-game Cheetahs tour. Chris Massyn has since joined Chartres in the French Federale 1. Jasper Wiese was recruited by Leicester where he went on to win the Premiership title and get capped by the Springboks. The soon-to-be 39-year-old Pienaar continues to smash it for the Cheetahs after coming back from a serious knee injury. Meanwhile, Johannes Coetzee is also back at the Bloemfontein club following a stint at the start of this season with Bath.

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