Cecil Afrika leaves the Blitzboks jersey in a 'better place'
CAPE TOWN – Imagine rugby Sevens without a last-minute match-winning score or without an oval ball for that matter.
That is what the loss of Springboks Sevens stalwart Cecil Africa will feel like for the current South African squad preparing for what could possibly be the conclusion of the current World Rugby Sevens Series and in the longer term, the Tokyo 2021 Olympic Games.
The 2019/2020 World Rugby Sevens Series was interrupted by the impact of the coronavirus after six of the scheduled ten World Series tournaments in March 2020.
In international rugby Sevens parlance, the name Cecil Afrika ranks right up there with the legend such as the legendary Fijian Waisale Serevi.
SA Rugby confirmed today that Cecil Afrika will not be able to end his stellar Sevens career on the high note that he was hoping for: campaigning for a first-ever Gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
This unfortunate situation was brought about by the current covid-19 pandemic that has been influencing everyday life and in particular sport across the globe. The 2020 Olympics was subsequently delayed until 2021.
The 32-year old Afrika was approaching the end of his tenure in Sevens, following his debut in Dubai in 2009. This season, he played in his final and 66th tournament for his country in Vancouver in March this year.
He was part of two World Series-winning Blitzboks squads of 2017 and 2018, as well as Team South Africa that won the Commonwealth Games Gold medal in 2014 as well as the first-ever Rugby Olympic Bronze medal in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
Afrika was informed by the Springboks Sevens top management of Neil Powell (head coach) and Marius Schoeman (SA Rugby head of Sevens high performance) - in 2019 - that his contract with the close-knit team would terminate at the end of the current season that would have ended in Tokyo.
The interference of the covid-19 pandemic brought this reality to a closer end, as Afrika himself admits.
‘’Beyond contractual agreements, as a professional athlete, one is always aware of the fact that the time will come that you either stop playing for a team or when retire, and in this instance it only means that I will not be with the national Sevens team,” Afrika said.
“Being part of the Springbok Sevens family has been a truly and incredible time of my career and the team will forever be family and home.
“I cannot go without saying a massive thank you to the supporters. I always appreciate their unrelenting and continued support, encouragement and the part they play in making this sport as spectacular as it is. Hopefully they will continue to support me wherever I go.”
Afrika's national contract will run its course at the end of July and with no international matches or tournaments scheduled in that time due to the covid-19 lockdown worldwide, it means that the dreadlocked player will bow out after 345 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series matches and a points’ tally of 1462.
Afrika, who made his debut in Dubai in 2009, played in his final and 66th tournament for his country in Vancouver in March this year. He was part of two World Series-winning Springboks Sevens squads (2017 and 2018), as well as the South African team that won Commonwealth Games gold (2014) and Olympic bronze (2016) medals.
Coach Neil Powell confirmed the departure of one of his longest-serving players.
“It is one of those inevitable things in professional sport, but even so, it remains a sad day to say goodbye to Cecil when his contract expires,” said Powell. “He has been a great in the game, his achievements speak for itself and he inspired many to enjoy the game of sevens.
“I played with Cecil when he made his debut in 2009 and in the last couple of years, had the privilege of coaching him as well. He was a truly gifted player who came back from some serious injuries more than once to achieve amazing feats as a player and squad member.
“We will say goodbye to him in a more formal way later in the year, but for now the Springbok Sevens management would like to thank him for his contributions over the many years he has been with the national team.
“Cecil has set very high standards for those to follow and there is no doubt that he will leave the jersey in a better place, something every international rugby player strives for.”
Powell said that they agreed a year ago already that Afrika will make his swansong in 2020. “We extended his contract last year in order for him to have a shot at making the Olympic squad, but with that being postponed to next year, that option cruelly fell away and is not available anymore.
“We have proper post career guidance in place for all in the squad and I know Cecil is already dipping into the business world, where he will be successful, no doubt.”
One of the key aspect of the Blitzboks system include assisting players in future planning after their playing careers. Afrika has in the meantime started planning for life after Sevens by starting a coffee business with two of his former teammates and captains Kyle Brown and Philip Snyman.
The small business that came from this was dubbed the 'Eighteen Coffee' brand, one of their first ventures that is based not far from the Blitzboks' base in Stellenbosch. The ‘eighteen’ in the name refers to the sum total of the three players’ jersey numbers.
“I am enjoying growing Eighteen Coffee and we’re excited to see what the future holds for our business,” Afrika said.
“I am excited for the next chapter, for all the ways in which I am aware of and also for the opportunities that have yet to unfold both in and outside of rugby.”
For more on Eighteen Coffee, click here: https://18coffee.co.za/