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Cecil Afrika makes surprise comeback for RWC Sevens

Cecil Afrika makes surprise comeback for RWC Sevens
Cecil Afrika of South Africa is tackled by Ben O'Donnell of Australia in the Men's final match during day three of the 2018 Sydney Sevens at Allianz Stadium on January 28, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Veteran Cecil Afrika has answered an SOS call from Blitzbok head coach Neil Powell for the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Cape Town this week.

The South African squads for the Rugby World Cup (RWC) Sevens – which takes place from 9 to 11 September – were announced on Friday with one surprise inclusion in the men’s squad. Cecil Afrika, who had not played for the Blitzboks since 2020, was the first name called out by SA Sevens High Performance manager Marius Schoeman.

“I haven’t played for the Blitzboks in two years, but I’ve been watching them,” Afrika told Daily Maverick.

“I’ve been in contact with some of the players and the coaching staff. It doesn’t feel like I actually left but it’s a privilege and honour to be back.

“The guys are really proud and excited. They have a lot of energy and hopefully I can feed off that and we can go out and make each other proud,” said Afrika who still holds the record for the most points for the Blitzboks (1,462 points).

Cecil Afrika of South Africa makes a pass during the 2018 Singapore Sevens Quarter Final match between South Africa and Kenya at National Stadium on April 29, 2018 in Singapore. (Photo by Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images)

The decision to bring Afrika back into the Sevens fold was due to the extensive injury list the Springbok Sevens team endured in the flyhalf position throughout the season.

“I had a discussion with Cecil before the Commonwealth Games already, letting him know if we pick up [more] injuries – especially in the flyhalf position –  we might pull him into the system,” head coach Neil Powell told Daily Maverick. “With Justin Geduld being out for the whole season, we only had Dewald Human and Lubabalo Dobela left in the flyhalf position.”

Afrika retired from international Sevens in 2020 to play 15s rugby in the USA. Recently, however, the playmaker found himself playing Sevens rugby again in France.

Cecil Afrika in action during the HSBC Canada Sevens tournament at BC Place Stadium on 7 and 8 March 2020 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by David Van Der Sandt/Gallo Images)

“What’s great is that he played in the French Sevens league over the last three weekends… that made the decision easier, the fact that he could hone his skills again,” Powell said.

“He needed to get into those sevens habits again and sharpen his fitness. If he didn’t play in those three tournaments, it would have been a more difficult decision to select him.”


SOS

Afrika said he had jokingly been sending Powell messages to tell him that he is ready to play if needed.

“Eventually I got a call saying ‘what do you think about playing in the World Cup?’… I said: ‘Coach, it will be my honour to come and represent my country at a World Cup.’

I’m truly grateful for this opportunity and I just want to make our country proud,” said Afrika, who represented the Blitzboks at the 2013 Rugby World Cup Sevens but missed out in 2018 due to injury.

“The last few weeks I’ve been playing for Monaco in the Super Sevens in France. We played in Perpignan, we played in La Rochelle and Pau. We played in three finals and we won two of those finals.

“It’s been a good couple of weeks, I got a lot of game time and a few bumps and bruises. I really felt good in those tournaments. Obviously the standards are different but I’m looking forward to what lies ahead for us.”

The Blitzboks have tried different approaches to help solve their flyhalf injury crisis, like calling up young Lions flyhalf Jordan Hendrikse to the London leg of the World Series. However, the leadership team thought it best to solve the problem with players who know the system best.

“The amazing thing about Cecil is he will contribute not just on the field but off the field as well. Selvyn [Davids] is not our flyhalf normally, he’s normally our sweeper and I think he’s looking forward to learning about the finer detail about the flyhalf position from Cecil,” said Powell.

Meanwhile, Dewald Human and Zain Davids have missed out on the World Cup squad due to injuries sustained in the final leg of the World Series in Los Angeles last weekend.

Imbokodo ready

Springbok Women’s Sevens stalwart Mathrin Simmers will play in her third Rugby World Cup Sevens in Cape Town next weekend while Nadine Roos, Zintle Mpupha and Eloise Webb will make their second RWC Sevens appearance when the action kicks off at Cape Town Stadium next Friday. Simmers and Sizophila Solontsi will co-captain the women’s side.

“It’s a privilege. To lead with Sizo – she has great leadership attributes – to work with her on and off the field is great. I can be the tough one while she’s the one getting the girls together and being nice,” co-captain Simmers told Daily Maverick.

“Most of the girls are coming from 15s now where they’ve recently beaten Spain and Japan, so the confidence is there [heading into the World Cup], we must just build on that,” she said. DM

The Springbok Sevens squad (with RWC & World Series stats):
Cecil Afrika – 2013 RWC; 66 World Series tournaments (1,462 points)
Ronald Brown – RWC debut; 8 World Series tournaments (285 points)
Angelo Davids – RWC debut; 9 World Series tournaments (160 points)
Selvyn Davids – 2018 RWC; 27 World Series tournaments (564 points)
Muller du Plessis – RWC debut; 20 World Series tournaments (315 points)
Christie Grobbelaar – RWC debut; 8 World Series tournaments (70 points)
Sako Makata – RWC debut; 16 World Series tournaments (60 points)
James Murphy – RWC debut; 10 World Series tournaments (45 points)
Mfundo Ndhlovu – RWC debut; 10 World Series tournaments (60 points)
Ryan Oosthuizen – 2018 RWC; 32 World Series tournaments (160 points)
JC Pretorius – RWC debut; 20 World Series tournaments (225 points)
Siviwe Soyizwapi (captain) – 2018 RWC; 40 World Series tournaments (670 points)
Impi Visser – RWC debut; 21 World Series tournaments (115 points)
Shaun Williams – RWC debut; Seven World Series tournaments (80 points)

The Springbok Women’s Sevens squad (with RWC & World Series stats):
Marlize de Bruin – RWC debut; One World Series tournament
Kirsten Eastes – RWC debut; One World Series tournament
Nolwazi Hlabangane – RWC debut; One World Series tournament
Felicia Jacobs – RWC debut; One World Series tournament
Lerato Makua – RWC debut; One World Series tournament
Unathi Mali – RWC debut; Two World Series tournaments
Ayanda Malinga – RWC debut, One World Series tournament (10 points)
Zintle Mpupha – 2018 RWC; Six World Series tournaments (40 points
Simamkele Namba – RWC debut
Asisipho Plaatjies – RWC debut; One World Series tournament
Nadine Roos – 2018 RWC; Five World Series tournaments (79 points)
Mathrin Simmers – 2013, 2018 RWC; 14 World Series tournaments (35 points)
Sizophila Solontsi – RWC debut; Two World Series tournaments
Eloise Webb – 2018 RWC; Five World Series tournaments (7 points)

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